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Do I need to hire an attorney to probate assets in Florida?

Under most circumstances, you will need to hire an attorney to assist you in the probate process. First, you will know you have to probate an asset when it is in the decedent's own, individual name. This includes bank accounts, stocks, bonds, land and more. The family will not be able to take control of these assets without following the exact rules as set forth in the Florida Probate Code.

Why do you need an attorney to help you? First, it is a court process and you will be going to court.  We have seen many people over the years try to go to court without an attorney and they just create problems and frustrations for themselves.

Next, the probate process is difficult and you will need a professional to help you. The following is a list of the general steps of probate, which can be quite complex, even to professionals.  The following is a general outline of the full probate process from start to finish. Not every estate will need every step, but this is a good outline for the entire process:

Step 1:  Locate Original Will (when applicable); list probate assets and addresses of beneficiaries;

Step 2: Obtain original death certificate from funeral home;

Step 3:  Find and hire a reputable probate attorney;

Step 4: Petition the probate court for appointment of Personal Representative;

Step 5: The probate court issues Letters of Administration and a bond for the Personal Representative;

Step 6: Send notice of administration to all heirs;

Step 7: Collect information from all heirs to administer the estate;

Step 8:  All outstanding bills are collected, sometimes over a period of months;

Step 9: The Personal Representative publishes in a newspaper notice to creditors, and provides direct claims notices to any known creditor of decedent;

Step 10: Assets gathered and consolidated by the Personal Representative, typically placing the assets with the attorney’s office for accounting purposes;

Step 11: Assets inventoried within sixty (60) days of the appointment of Personal Representative;

Step 12: Determine if estate tax return is needed;

Step 13: Wait ninety (90) days for the published notice to creditors;

Step 14: Decide on the validity of any estate claims; dispute those that are invalid and pay those that are valid;

Step 15: File the Declaration of Homestead after the ninety (90) day creditors’ period runs;

Step 16: Gather receipts from creditors after paying valid claims;

Step 17: Defend/settle lawsuits from creditors who sue the estate;

Step 18: Sell/dispose of property, at Personal Representative’s discretion;

Step 19: Pay any specific bequests to beneficiaries, if money allows;

Step 20: Determine final distribution percentages;

Step 21: Calculate attorney’s fees;

Step 22: Calculate Personal Representative’s fee;

Step 23: Pay all outstanding estate costs;

Step 24: Account to the beneficiaries on all costs, outstanding bills, and fees;

Step 25: Either receive consent from beneficiaries or wait thirty (30) days after final accounting sent to the beneficiaries; and

Step 26: Petition to close estate and follow plan of distribution as submitted to heirs and the probate court.

As you can see, the probate process, with all of these required steps, can be quite cumbersome, although a good probate attorney would generally make the process relatively painless. 

If you would like to know more about the Florida Probate process, please go our Free Library and download your guide today. If you have any questions, we would be glad to provide you a free initial consultation to see how we can assist you.

D. Rep DeLoach III
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Estate Planning and Board Certified Elder Law Attorney
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