Florida probate rules are comlicated. Many people struggle after the loss of a loved one and don’t know quite were to turn to handle their loved one’s affairs. The easiest solution is to of course hire a lawyer to handle the process, but you are not required to do so. Be forewarned though, if done incorrectly you could be liable for damages from snubbed beneficiaries or creditors. In Florida, there are laws that must be followed to transfer a deceased person’s (hereafter called “decedent”) property to their heirs or beneficiaries if the decedent did not have a Will. If a person passed away without a will they are said to have died “intestate.” The State of Florida has set laws that dictate who will receive what from the Estate based on their relationship to the decedent. Even if someone passed away with little savings, this process must take place. To start the process, an heir or family member will need a certified Death Certificate. Death Certificates can be obtained from the Florida Department of Health, Vital Records department. Requests for Death Certificates can be made by mail or online at the Department’s website. According to their website, typical processing time is 10-14 days upon receiving a request. Certificates cost approximately $5. Be sure to order a Death Certificate as quickly as possible. You may need additional copies for life insurance policies.
After obtaining a Death Certificate, schedule an appointment with the Estates Department in the District Clerk of Court’s office where the decedent lived. A clerk will check to see if the decedent had previously filed a Will that you or another heir or family member did not know about. Wills are not available for public inspection before someone passes away and are kept private. Before visiting the Clerk’s office, be sure to collect supportive evidence that shows you were related to the decedent. This evidence could be a birth certificate or marriage license, which can also be obtained from the Vital Records Division of the Florida Department of Health. If you are not related to the decedent, be sure to have documentation that explains your relationship with the decedent. If you were a caregiver, you will need invoices or pay stubs that show you were employed in that capacity. If you were a girlfriend or boyfriend, the State of Florida does not recognize what is called a “Common Law Marriage” if the relationship was not established by 1968. However, you may be able to obtain compensation for any debt owed for rent, car, utility or other payments from the Estate (read more below for creditor info).
Next a District Judge will preside over the administration of the decedent’s estate. If you are appointed as a personal representative of the Estate, you will need to notify creditors of the decedent’s passing. This is normally done by mail. You will also need to advertise for creditors in a local newspaper. You will also need to collect data about the estate’s assets such as bank accounts, balances, stocks, bonds, or other personal. After inventorying personal property, you will also need to find any real property owned by the decedent. Real property consists of all property related to land – parcels, houses, office buildings, timber rights etc. Personal property is everything else – cars, motorcycles, furniture etc. After itemizing the estate’s assets, the estate will need to pay any creditors. You will also need to file a final tax return with the IRS for the decedents last year of taxes. You will need to include all income and gifts that took place before their passing. After the certain time period allowed for creditors has elapsed and creditors have had their claims processed, you will be able to transfer the estate’s remaining personal and real property to the beneficiaries. The state will dictate who has rights to this property. To convey personal property such as furniture, it’s as simple as having it picked up and having the beneficiary sign a receipt acknowledging they received the property. To have access to funds, you will need to show your paperwork to the bank showing you are the appropriate person for doing such. If you were previously granted Powers of Attorney by the decedent before their passing, do not access these funds before being told to do so. Powers of Attorney are no longer in effect when someone dies. If you use these funds or transfer them somewhere else, there could be legal consequences. To transfer real property, you will need have a new Deed prepared conveying the estate’s interest to the proper beneficiary(ies). Property is not automatically conveyed after probate. It is possible to have the estate cover the costs of preparing a new deed. In some states individuals are allowed to do this themselves, but it is recommended to have it done by a professional so it’s done correctly. Before the new Deed is recorded, the estate will need to pay any owed property tax. To transfer motor vehicle titles, you will need to contact the Florida DMV.