Treasure Coast Probate Lawyers Work to Settle Estates Efficiently
Accomplished Stuart firm advises personal representatives and potential heirs
Managing the affairs and distributing the property of someone who has recently died is a profound legal duty and a significant challenge. Florida’s status as a prime destination for older Americans means that along with area residents, many individuals and families from other states require authoritative counsel from an attorney well versed in our probate system. Steven J. Wood, who is Board Certified for Wills, Trust & Estates by The Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education, leads our probate division, which also features Kenneth A. Norman, Nicola J. Boone Melby, Margaret E. Wood, Kimberly A. Ryan, Loren N. Esposito and Ross C. Alagna. Our probate attorneys find effective, creative ways to tackle the typical and unexpected complications which can arise in these matters.
Florida attorneys provide comprehensive assistance with key estate tasks
When someone is named as the personal representative in a will, a Florida court typically designates that individual as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Where the assets do not exceed $75,000, the estate qualifies for summary administration, a process that involves less court intervention and does not require an estate representative. However, matters that are probated through the formal administration process give the representative legal responsibility for carrying out the testator’s wishes. Specific duties include:
- Filing the will if one exists — A personal representative files the last will and testament in the Circuit Court of the county where the decedent resided. From there, the court typically appoints the personal representative for the estate and issues letters of administration authorizing him or her to take legal action on behalf of the estate. Where no valid will exists, the court appoints a personal representative who is charged with seeing that the decedent’s property is allocated in accordance with Florida intestacy law.
- Collecting the decedent’s assets and transferring them into the estate — Assets that were owned by the deceased individual must be gathered and shifted into the estate. Personal representatives are responsible for maintaining an accurate inventory and obtaining appraisals when warranted.
- Paying taxes and other expenses — When someone dies, it does not terminate their existing tax or debt obligations. Our attorneys help personal representatives get a handle on payments that must be made, as along with funeral expenses and estate administration costs.
- Addressing disputes — Claims from potential beneficiaries regarding alleged fraud, mistake or undue influence can deplete resources and waste time. As soon as a dispute arises, we address the merits of the accusations and take appropriate steps to keep the probate process moving.
- Obtaining court authorization and closing the estate — After distributing assets to the parties named in the will or entitled under the intestacy statute, our firm submits necessary documentation to the court which, in turn, closes the estate.
At every stage of the probate proceedings, you can count on our knowledgeable legal counsel to educate you regarding the pertinent law and assist you as you complete your obligations.
Knowledgeable attorneys explain how to deal with assets that are not part of probate
Not everything that a decedent owns will be passed to beneficiaries through the probate process. In fact, someone might shape their estate plan to transfer assets through other methods for various reasons, including concerns about delays and expenses. If you are administering an estate, it’s critical to understand from the outset which assets are excluded, such as:
- Jointly held assets with a right of survivorship
- Accounts that are payable or transferable upon death
- Assets within a revocable living trust
- Gifts that are given during the decedent’s lifetime
- Life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts
- Real estate owned by a married couple in a tenancy by the entirety
Although ownership in such assets is transferred by operation of law, they still must be accounted for by the personal representative for federal estate tax purposes. Should you have any questions regarding the classification of a particular item or another type of concern, we are here to give you clear, personalized legal guidance.
Contact an experienced probate lawyer serving the Treasure Coast and the Palm Beaches
McCarthy, Summers, Wood, Norman, Melby & Schultz, P.A. advises estate representatives and beneficiaries in a full range of Florida probate matters. Please call 772-286-1700 or contact us online to schedule a meeting at our office in Stuart.