If you are currently grieving the loss of a loved one, the last thing you probably want to do is focus on the legal steps that need to be taken because of that death. If the decedent appointed you to be the Executor of the estate in his/her Last Will and Testament, however, it means that the decedent trusted you to be able to handle the administration of the estate. Moreover, because probate is a time sensitive process, you need to get started as soon as possible. If you have never served as an Executor, you may not know where or how to begin. To get you started, the Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law explain some of the most common steps involved in probating an estate.
Most people acquire assets during their lifetime that make up their estate at the time of their death. Some people amass a huge estate that includes complex and valuable assets while other people own little more than their personal possessions at the time of death. Regardless of the size and value of assets owned by a decedent, those assets must be identified, valued, and passed down to the intended recipients. That is the primary purpose of the legal process known as probate. Before assets can be passed down, however, there several important steps in the probate process that must be completed.
Common Steps in the Probate Process
Just as every person is unique, so is every estate left behind by a decedent. As such, the probate process will not be identical for any two estates. There are, however, some common steps in the probate process, including:
- Inventorying, securing, and valuing assets. As soon as possible, an inventory of the decedent’s assets, including both tangible and intangible assets, should be completed. Assets must also be secured which may mean doing things such as closing a financial account or locking up real property. A date of death value will be required for all estate assets as well. For some assets, this may require you to secure the assistance of an appraiser.
- Deciding what type of probate is required. Most states, including Florida, have a small estate alternative to formal probate for estates that qualify. The first step in the probate process, therefore, is to determine if formal probate is required using the information gained from the inventory of the estate assets.
- Initiating Probate. The Executor initiates probate in the county where the decedent was a resident at the time of death. Typically, this involves filing a petition, along with a certified copy of the death certificate and an original Last Will and Testament with the appropriate court.
- Notifying creditors and paying claims. All potential creditors of the estate must be notified that probate is underway. This is accomplished by publishing a notice in a local newspaper. The Executor is then required to review claims and pay all approved claims, according to priority, using estate assets.
- Prepare, file, and pay estate taxes. All estates are potentially subject to federal gift and estate taxes. Some states also impose a state estate tax; however, Florida is not one of them. You must file estate tax returns with the federal government (and state government if the decedent owned assets in a state that does impose a state tax) and pay any taxes due.
- Submitting a final accounting. If required, you will need to submit a final accounting and proposed distribution with the probate court.
- Transfer assets to beneficiaries/heirs. Finally, you will need to prepare any documents necessary to legally transfer the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries pursuant to the terms of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament and/or to legal heirs for intestate estate assets.
Contact Coral Gables Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE webinar. If you have additional questions or concerns about how to probate an estate, contact the experienced Coral Gables probate attorneys at Stivers Law by calling (305) 456-3255 to schedule an appointment.