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Probate in Florida: State-Specific Considerations


Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person’s estate. Florida’s probate procedures can differ from other states and must be followed to ensure a smooth and efficient transfer of assets.

Understanding Probate in Florida

To understand probate in Florida, parties should first become familiar with a few key terms and their implications in Florida probate proceedings. These include:

  • Testate Proceedings: When someone passes away with a will, they are considered to have died “testate.” This means the individual left behind a valid Last Will and Testament, indicating how they want their assets to be distributed to their beneficiaries.
  • Intestate Proceedings: On the other hand, if someone passes away without a will, they are considered to have died “intestate.” This means the individual died without a valid Will or estate planning documents. As a result, the assets are distributed based on Florida’s intestate statutes.
  • Executors and Personal Representatives: In both proceedings, an executor or personal representative must manage the deceased’s estate. Testate proceedings determine executors according to the deceased’s Will; Intestate proceedings determine a personal representative based on state law. Usually, an interested party files a Petition for Administration with the court.
  • Obligations to Estate Creditors: Whoever is appointed executor or personal representative is responsible for providing notice to creditors so the decedent’s debts can be settled. This can include proper claims, taxes, and any expenses the executor uses to administer the decedent’s estate properly.
  • Internal Revenue Services (IRS): Florida has two significant tax implications after someone passes away. Namely, it marks the decedent’s last tax year for federal income tax return, and it creates a new tax entity called “the estate.” The executor or personal representative is responsible for filing final tax returns and paying debts.
  • Rights of the Decedent’s Surviving Family: In both testate and intestate proceedings, the decedent’s surviving spouse and children may be entitled to probate assets even if the Will does not leave them anything. Florida law protects surviving spouses and children from total disinheritance, but circumstances may vary. Thus, parties involved in these proceedings should review their rights to make informed decisions about their unique situation.
  • Revocable Trusts: Also known as a “Living Trust” or a “Revocable Living Trust.” This legal document outlines the decedent’s assets and intended beneficiaries. It also appoints a Trustee(s) responsible for managing and administering the account, similar to the role of an executor or personal representative.

Furthermore, the trustee is always required to file a Notice of Trust with the clerk of courts. It must be done within the county in which the decedent resided at the time of their death. The Notice of Trust is required to inform the decedent’s creditors of the existence of the trust and their rights to enforce claims against the trust’s assets.

Finally, it is essential to note that trusts are considered non-probate assets. This means they are not required to go through the court-supervised probate process. Instead, after the deceased passes away, assets can be directly distributed to the beneficiaries or heirs identified in the trust. Thus, parties involved in Florida probate proceedings should understand these state-specific considerations and seek legal recourse when necessary. 

The Probate Process

Formal administration is the most common type of probate proceeding. It is a court-supervised process that may vary in complexity depending on four significant factors. Namely, the state where the deceased passed away, the size of their estate, if they died testate or intestate, and if disputes arise throughout the process. 

Nevertheless, Florida’s probate process generally follows these steps:

  1. Filing a Petition: File a petition with the probate court. It may be filed by the executor named in the Will or an interested party if there is no will. The petition asks the court to open the probate and officially appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the decedent’s estate.
  2. Giving Notice: Once the court approves the petition, the executor or personal representative of the estate provides notice to the decedent’s heirs, beneficiaries, and any known creditors. The notice informs them of their rights in probate proceedings and allows them to make claims on the estate, if any.
  3. Inventory and Appraisal: The appointed executor or personal representative takes inventory of the decedent’s assets and determines their value.
  4. Paying Debts and Taxes: The executor or personal representative uses the estate to pay off debts or taxes the decedent owes. This includes paying off any creditors and filing final tax returns.
  5. Distributing Assets: After all debts and taxes are paid through the estate, the executor or personal representative distributes the remaining assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries according to their will. If there is no will, then state law determines the beneficiaries.
  6. Closing the Estate: Once all assets are distributed, the executor or personal representative files a petition to close the estate with the probate court. The petition includes a final account of all transactions related to the estate’s distribution.
  7. Final Distribution and Discharge: After the court approves the final accounting, the executor or personal representative makes final distributions to beneficiaries. Then, the court relieves them of their duties, closing the probate case.

It is important to emphasize that probate generally takes several months to over a year to complete. However, it can take longer if there are disputes or challenges to the will or distribution of assets. Other factors that may affect the probate timeline include the types of assets in the estate, the number of beneficiaries, and the amount of debts or taxes owed.

Alternatives to Formal Administration

Florida law provides two alternatives to the formal administration detailed above: Summary Administration and Ancillary Administration.

  • Summary Administration: This expedited probate process is most suitable for small estates with a total value of less than $75,000. It can be used if the deceased passed away over two years ago with no prior attempt to administer the estate and if there are no objections by creditors.
  • Ancillary Administration: This alternative process is most suitable if the decedent owned property in Florida but was domiciled elsewhere. This proceeding allows the Florida court to manage the local assets of the estate while the primary probate proceedings take place in the decedent’s home state.

It is crucial to note that both alternative processes may have case-specific considerations that are unique to each situation. For this reason, interested parties should consult a probate lawyer with their concerns before pursuing alternative methods. 

State-Specific Considerations

Florida has a few unique probate law distinctions compared to other states. A few of the primary differences include:

  • No-Contest Clauses: No-contest clauses are usually outlined in estate planning documents to prevent others from challenging the Will after the deceased’s death. In most states, parties who contest a Will that contains no-contest clauses risk losing their inheritance. However, Florida is among the few states that will not enforce a no-contest clause in a Will.
  • A Will’s Validity: Florida has specific requirements for a Will’s validity and use in probate proceedings. For example, in Florida, handwritten wills are not accepted. Parties should consult estate planners or probate Lawyers to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
  • The Probate Timeline and Costs: These factors vary by state, jurisdiction, and circumstance. Consider how some probate cases follow a quick, straightforward process while others can be lengthy and complicated. It all depends on the unique situation of the decedent and their estate at the time of their death. 

Furthermore, Florida’s probate laws can vary by jurisdiction. For instance, in Florida, circuit courts govern the process of settling the deceased’s estate. These courts maintain inherent jurisdiction to monitor estate administration and protect assets for beneficiaries. 

In Florida, probate petitions must be filed in the county where the decedent lived. For example, if the decedent’s last known domicile was in Davie, Florida, then the petition must be filed in Broward County. Similarly, the petition must be filed in Miami-Dade County if the decedent’s last residence was in Miami. Moreover, if the deceased is an out-of-state resident with real property in Florida, circuit courts may still have jurisdiction over those assets.

It is also important to note that Florida’s circuit courts have the authority to freeze assets pending evidentiary determination. This is limited by two factors: the assets are not real property located in another state, and corporate or business entities do not own the assets. 

Legal Resources

Probate laws may be amended or changed in Florida, as in any other state. This must be considered when creating a legal, written plan for your estate. Parties should conduct due diligence and keep up with any revisions to the law to ensure their estate plan reflects those changes.

One way to find updated statutes is to check with the governing body responsible for creating and enforcing the laws, such as a state legislature or federal agency. For example, The Florida Bar often publishes updates on their website for public use. Additionally, legal databases and online resources, such as The Florida Senate, can be helpful tools for researching the latest laws and regulations. 

Remember, it is always recommended to consult with a local probate lawyer who is familiar with your state’s probate laws if you have any concerns. Most law firms even offer free consultations where you can gain greater insight into the details of your case at no cost.


In sum, each state has its own probate laws and procedures, which can vary based on various factors. For this reason, parties should stay informed on the latest probate laws in their jurisdiction and work with qualified professionals who can help them navigate the process. By understanding the unique state-specific considerations of your probate matters, you can help ensure that your wishes are carried out in the future.

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