THE PROBATE PROCESS
In Florida, circuit courts are responsible for overseeing the administration of an estate. To begin the probate process, numerous documents and forms must be filed with the court when someone dies. The probate process may go on for several months or longer, depending on the extent of the estate and whether any disputes arise over its administration. Attorney Adam D. Roark is experienced in probate matters and is available to guide clients through the entire process.
The probate process is often emotional for families. When handling an estate following the death of an individual, it is important to ensure that everything is distributed according to the decedent’s wishes, or according to the intestate law. The Roark Law Firm understands that handling probate is a personal matter. As a small local law firm, the Roark Law Firm prides itself on its ability to provide individualized representation to clients in our community.
WHAT IS PROBATE?
When a person dies, with certain exceptions, their estate goes through the process of probate. At a very basic level, probate is simply the process of telling the court that a person has died with or without a Will, that certain assets are to be distributed to various beneficiaries, and that a petitioner or personal representative has been appointed to administer the estate and handle the decedent’s final affairs. If the decedent left a Will, the probate court works to determine whether the Will is valid. Then the decedent’s assets are collected, debts are paid from the estate, and the assets are distributed according to the instructions left in the Will. It must be noted that probate only covers the assets that were in the decedent’s name alone at the time of death. Assets owned jointly with another person, held in trust, or which have a beneficiary designation bypass the probate process.
If no Will is left, then the decedent is said to have died “intestate.” In these situations, there are no instructions from the decedent for the court to follow, and the property will be distributed according to the default rules of succession, which are largely based on heredity. It is worth mentioning, that the default rules of intestacy often differ from what the person would have wanted. The law of intestacy is based on what the State of Florida believes will benefit the most people. Of course, since no two families are truly alike, this average family might not be anything like your real family. This is why it is important to put together an estate plan that works to protect your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family or children from a prior relationship.
WHAT DOES A PROBATE ATTORNEY DO?
First and foremost, a probate attorney will prepare and file all necessary probate forms with the court. Probate attorneys often work with the personal representative of an estate to assist with the complicated process of accumulating the probate and non-probate assets, including bank accounts, closely held businesses, life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts, and real estate. Estates also have debts to be paid from the probate assets, including bills and taxes, and attorneys will help to address these issues as well, working to settle these debts by using the appropriate assets. Probate attorneys might also help retitle certain property into the names of beneficiaries. Finally, after settling all necessary debts and filing the appropriate probate documents, the attorney will help to ensure that the remainder of the property is distributed properly to the beneficiaries.
By helping to sort through the complicated probate process, the Roark Law Firm can help resolve the estate in an organized and cost-efficient manner. This hopefully helps to avoid unnecessary family conflicts that can occur when emotions are involved and when people might not understand why certain decisions are made.
AVOID DISPUTES WITH ESTATE PLANNING
After a loved one dies, relatives may argue over the administration of the estate or disposition of minor children and assets, especially if the individual died without a Will or Trust. Should the decedent’s home be sold or given to a family member? What about the decedent’s car? How will the decedent’s expensive antique collection be divided up? Without a Will or Trust, the decedent’s estate will be divided up according to certain rules, called intestate succession. Often, survivors are not satisfied with these laws, but, unfortunately, they will have a difficult time challenging them.
All of these disputes may be avoided altogether with the assistance of an estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney will help individuals think about how they would like their estates to be divided between family members and loved ones. An estate planning attorney will inform the client of the advantages and disadvantages of different decisions, including any tax consequences. This way, the client is fully informed and knows that his or her wishes will be properly carried out. The client may make a Will or Trust as detailed as he or she likes, setting forth who will receive the assets, how and when they may be used, and may even include instructions on taking care of the client’s children or pets. In addition, by reducing the client’s directions to writing, a Will or Trust allows the client’s loved ones to see the client’s wishes at the time of the client’s death. This can be especially beneficial when attempting to determine who should have custody over a decedent’s minor children or control over the assets left behind for their care. Having a Will or Trust created will settle many disputes before they even begin.
A PROBATE LAWYER CAN ACTUALLY HELP YOU AVOID PROBATE
The Roark Law Firm is experienced in a number of Florida probate court procedures and the various ways to avoid or minimize the time, money, or assets spent passing through the probate process. Attorney Adam D. Roark understands that dealing with the probate court is often expensive, stressful, and time consuming.
The Roark Law Firm is able to advise clients of different ways they may avoid probate to meet their estate planning goals. For example, property may be put into a trust, or the ownership of a home may be set up so that at the time of death, it automatically transfers to another loved one—avoiding the probate process completely. By utilizing proper titling of assets, beneficiary designations, and other tools of good estate planning, the Roark Law Firm works hand-in-hand with clients to minimize and avoid the costly, emotionally draining process of probate.
PROBATE LAWYERS PROVIDE GUIDANCE WITH ESTATE PLANNING
AFTER SIGNIFICANT LIFE EVENTS
It is imperative to update one’s Will and other estate planning measures after major life events occur. For example, if you separate from your spouse and have filed for divorce, you may want to go ahead and make changes to your Will. Before the divorce is finalized, your spouse may still be entitled to a large portion of your estate. In addition, when you have children, obtain new property, or if loved ones pass away, you should consult your estate planning attorney to update your documents. Thankfully, once you have taken the initial step of having an attorney draft an estate plan, updating the plan to account for changes in life is relatively quick and easy.