Florida, a popular destination for those looking to purchase a second home, move to permanently, or even retire. With year-round warm weather, beaches like no other and no state income tax, what’s not to love? People from all over and not only from the United States, have a connection to Florida. Miami, a location with a very heavy Hispanic presence, has people migrating from other countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, and many other Central and South America countries. Only a short distance from Miami, we have Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale housing a large Canadian population. Palm Beach area, the northerners flocking over from New York and New Jersey. Traveling upwards into the state you’ll find a heavy presence of those migrating from Michigan, Minnesota and other freezing states seeking a warmer climate. It’s truly great place to be!
Unfortunately, not all family members will make the jump and move to Florida. The children and immediate family will typically remain back in their home country or state choosing to rather visit. The new Floridians end up establishing Florida as their permanent residence by purchasing a home, opening bank accounts, and buying other estate in Florida. When they ultimately pass away, friends and family who reside outside of Florida, are left scrambling trying to find out what they need to do with their loved one’s estate. At some point, they will come to learn that they need to hire a Florida probate attorney and go through the Florida probate process, which may be different than their home state. If you are in that situation, this article will provide you with the information you need and next steps to get you started in the process of probating your loved one’s estate.
What should be your first step after your loved one has died in Florida or with assets in Florida?
Dealing with grief and sadness after your loss is the most important thing one needs to do. People handle death in a variety of ways and taking care of yourself first needs to be the first step. You will likely end up with many “things” on your plate which can be a helpful distraction, but we highly encourage our clients to allocate time for the grieving process. Everything else will come naturally into play.
After you feel like you’re in a place where you’re ready to handle the legal and logistical aspects of your loved one’s affairs, you will then need to take care of the funeral or cremation arrangements. From a legal perspective, one of the most important things we would highly recommend to do is to make sure the details given to the funeral home director are highly detailed as they will likely be applying for the death certificate. Be as honest and truthful as possible and be sure to double and triple check the details – this is crucial. The funeral home director is going to submit the information to Vital Statistics, the Florida agency that records and issues death certificates, and if by chance the information is inaccurate it will be a complicated and major process to amend the death certificate. Once funeral or cremation arrangements have been taken care of, you will then proceed onto the next step.
Step 2 – Identify, locate and secure any and all assets.
Depending on your relationship with the person who passed away, you may have an understanding of what was left behind. For example, you may know that they owned their home, who they had bank accounts with, their investment accounts and have had a general understanding about their finances. You will then need to notify these institutions that the person has passed away. The reason for this is that identity fraud is likely to take place after one passes away and the last thing you need is someone stealing money from these accounts. Though we do recommend contacting a probate attorney right away (prior to contacting any institutions) as there may be reasons not to notify them, at least not right away. Regardless, you will need to keep a very detailed list of where these accounts are. And if by any chance the property is now vacant, you will need to secure the home with new locks and ask a trusted neighbor or friend to keep an eye on the property.
However, you may not know what this person’s financial situation is. You may not even know where they were residing or if they had owned any real estate. This is very common especially among families that have grown apart over the years. We start by telling our clients that the first place to start is by going through their mail if possible. Doing this can help discover the accounts under their name and any other assets they might have had. You will end up having to do a little detective work in order to piece the puzzle together. However, if by any chance you find no information, your next step has to be to hire a private investigator. Unfortunately, as attorneys, we do not have a master database that will list bank accounts or assets that that person might have had. Ownership in real estate is public record so we can search in the county where you think the person might have owned property but, if they owned it in the name of a Trust or LLC, this would make things very difficult but not impossible.
Step 3 – Be on the lookout for creditors and debt collectors
It is not uncommon for those who pass away to have unpaid credit card debt or even hospital bills. As a general rule of thumb, a person’s debts do not get passed on to their surviving family members. Unless those family members are on the account as joint owners with the person who died, the family members are not responsible and should not start paying those creditors back. Again, before you make the decision to pay or not to pay, we would encourage you to contact Stivers Law at 305-456-3255 or contact us here to discuss your options and what you need to do.
Step 4 – Hire a Florida probate attorney
If the person who died owned Florida real estate in his or her name or had other assets such as bank accounts, chances are, you are going to need to open a probate in Florida in order to transfer the property or money to yourself or the person’s beneficiaries. There is most likely no way around that, and chances are that if you live in another state or another country, you will need the assistance of a Florida probate attorney. Attorneys licensed in the state of Florida are the only ones who are able to open the probate. For example, a New York attorney cannot do a probate for the asset in Florida unless that attorney is also licensed in Florida.
It’s imperative to know that it is not necessary to hire a Stivers Law in the county where the person died or owned assets. For instance, Stivers Law, a Miami Stivers Law, handles probate cases across the state of Florida. The Florida probate process is typically electronic which means everything submitted to the court is done via email or through the court’s secure e-filing portal. Court appearances are either done telephonically or via video conferencing which means the attorney does not have to physically go to the courthouse. This allows our team to work significantly more efficient as it allows our firm to handle more cases quickly.
Probate is a very unique and specialized area of law. You need to make sure the probate attorney you hire truly is knowledgeable. We encourage you to do your homework on Stivers Law you choose to hire and not only go based off of the price. Doing it incorrectly or taking a long time, will cost you in the long run. Before you hire an attorney, you should ask if the attorney has written a book on probate, look at their reviews, and check their social media. It’s really important you choose an attorney who is knowledgeable and one you feel you can trust. This is an important decision because most likely, you will be working with that law firm for several months, so you need to make sure it is a good fit for all parties involved.
Step 5 – Go through the probate
At Stivers Law, we will handle your case from A to Z. You will not need to come to Florida, visit the office, nor attend any court hearings. All we’ll need from you is a little information and a signature on a handful of documents. After that, it is up to us at Stivers Law to make sure the probate process proceeds quickly and is successful. We will provide you with frequent updates, but our goal is to have you as hands off as possible.
If you would like to speak with a member of our Team to discuss how we can help you through the Florida probate process, please call us at 305-456-3255 or fill out the Contact Us page and we will contact you right away. And for those who would like to do more research – we have you covered! Download our free guide today titled: “A Love One Has Died” to learn more about the Florida probate process.
Thank you for your interest in Stivers Law and we look forward to speaking with you soon.
As a reminder, the information provided on this blog article is only to be used for general informational purposes and not intended to be used as legal advice.