Avoiding Probate

As estate planning attorneys in Orlando, we have helped countless clients utilize expert legal tools to avoid probate. If you need help structuring your estate or preparing legal documents, schedule a free initial consultation with our law firm to move forward with top-tier legal advice.

Almost everyone, regardless of the size of their estate, can benefit from expert estate planning. Estate planning involves more than preserving wealth (although that is a key component). At its core, estate planning is about making sure a person’s wishes for their estate are carried out after their death, in the most advantageous way possible. 

For many clients, avoiding probate is high on their wish list insofar as estate planning goals, and it’s not hard to understand why. The probate proceedings in Florida are often timely, costly, and inconvenient for family members, loved ones, and beneficiaries. Fortunately, we have numerous estate planning tools in our arsenal that can accomplish this goal. 

If you’re wondering how to avoid probate in Florida, don’t stress — William C. Roof Law Group has got you covered. This article will explain everything you need to know about avoiding probate in Florida, including the many potential advantages associated with doing so. 

Overview of Probate

Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is administered. This involves distributing a person’s assets to beneficiaries, settling outstanding debts, and ensuring taxes are paid. In Florida, the probate court oversees this process, ensuring the decedent’s wishes, as outlined in their will, are carried out and that the estate is settled according to state probate laws.

Probate proceedings in Florida involve several key steps, including the following: 

  1. Filing the petition. The process begins by filing a petition with the probate court in the county where the deceased person lived, requesting that the court appoint a personal representative (executor) to manage the estate.
  2. Validating the will. If the decedent left a will, the court will verify its validity, which may involve providing evidence that the will was properly executed and is available in the most recent version.
  3. Appointing a personal representative. If the decedent died intestate, the court will appoint a personal representative to oversee the administration of the estate. Responsibilities include managing the estate’s assets, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.
  4. Inventory and appraisal. The personal representative must also create a detailed inventory of the estate’s assets, obtaining appraisals for items of significant value, which they will file with the court. 
  5. Notifying creditors. The probate process is also when creditors are notified of the decedent’s death and given an opportunity to file claims against the estate, which the personal representative is responsible for reviewing and settling.
  6. Paying debts and taxes. Before distributing assets to beneficiaries, the personal representative must ensure that all debts, including funeral expenses, taxes, and other obligations, are paid from the estate.
  7. Distributing assets. After debts and taxes are paid, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or according to Florida’s intestacy laws (if they died without a will). 
  8. Closing the estate. After all of the estate’s assets have been distributed and obligations have been met, the personal representative files a final accounting with the court. The court reviews the accounting to ensure everything is in order, and if it is, issues an order closing the estate.

      Probate plays a crucial role in estate administration, particularly when a decedent dies without a proper estate plan in place. However, there are many good reasons to want to avoid probate, which we will discuss in the next section. 

      Reasons to Avoid Probate in Florida

      When an estate goes through the probate process, the probate court has ultimate deciding power over various critical aspects of estate administration. Avoiding this process is a common goal for many individuals for various reasons, including the following: 

      • Cost savings. The attorney fees, executor fees, appraisal fees, and other probate costs can add up quickly, costing beneficiaries money that they might have otherwise inherited.
      • Time efficiency. Probate can be a lengthy, time-consuming process, and in some cases, may take several months or over a year to complete. For beneficiaries and dependents who need immediate access to funds, probate can be a frustrating barrier to financial support. 
      • Privacy. Probate court proceedings in Florida are a matter of public record, meaning that anyone can access information about the decedent’s estate, assets, and beneficiaries. Avoiding probate can help keep sensitive, personal information confidential. 
      • Reduced stress. Avoiding probate can simplify the estate administration process for both the executor and beneficiaries, reducing the stress and complexity involved, as well as minimizing the potential for legal disputes among heirs. 
      • Direct access to assets. Beneficiaries may have immediate financial needs that can be met more quickly if assets are not tied up in probate. 
      • Control and certainty. Many estate planning tools, such as living trusts and beneficiary designations, allow individuals to have greater control over how their assets are managed and distributed, minimizing court involvement. 

      Depending on your estate planning goals, avoiding probate can be advantageous in numerous ways. However, the specific benefits you enjoy will depend on your distinct goals, circumstances, and ability to successfully avoid probate. 

      How to Avoid Probate

      As experienced estate planning lawyers, we have several effective strategies for helping our clients avoid probate and the many potential drawbacks associated with it.

      Here are a few of the methods and estate planning tools we can explore for helping you to avoid the probate process: 

      • Living trustsBy transferring assets into a living trust, they no longer belong to your estate, meaning they are not subject to probate. This allows for a smoother transfer of assets to beneficiaries upon your death. 
      • Joint ownership with right of survivorship. The State of Florida recognizes joint ownership with the right of survivorship, meaning that after the death of one owner, a property passes automatically to the surviving spouse or surviving owner without going through probate.
      • Payable-on-death (POD) and transfer-on-death (TOD) designations. Both of these designations can help ensure that assets transfer directly to named beneficiaries upon the account holder’s death, avoiding the probate process. 
      • Beneficiary designations. Establishing beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and annuities allow assets to bypass probate and go directly to their designated beneficiaries.
      • Lady Bird deeds (enhanced life estate deeds). Florida is one of the few states that recognizes Lady Bird deeds, which allow real estate owners the ability to retain control of their property during their lifetime, then have it immediately transferred to a named beneficiary upon their death. 

      This is by no means an exhaustive list but merely a few examples of the tools we can use to create a custom-tailored estate plan that fits with your unique needs, goals, and circumstances. 

      William C. Roof Law Group: Probate Attorneys in Central Florida

      If avoiding the probate process is important to you, it’s also important to us. Our estate planning lawyers are here to make sure that your estate is structured around your wishes, in the most advantageous way possible. Ready to get started? Contact our law office to take advantage of a free initial consultation.

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