Though sometimes viewed as an unpopular method of asset administration, the probate court ensures oversight of a fair and equitable distribution to beneficiaries. Attorney’s Title Services, LLC can provide you with a probate lawyer in Jacksonville and North Florida to handle your fiduciary duties and/or to protect your property interests.
How a Probate Lawyer Helps Open the Estate
Florida law requires you to retain an attorney to act as a personal representative or executor in an estate. The exception to this is if you are the only interested party in the decedent’s estate.
If a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) identified you as an executor, you submit the Will to probate and request its approval and an order naming you as the executor. If you intend to represent the estate but the Will does not designate you as such (or the decedent left no Will), you will follow a different process.
The admission of a Will to the probate court is subject to challenge from beneficiaries or persons claiming that they are beneficiaries omitted from the Will. The appointment of a personal representative or executor is also subject to challenge. Your attorney will help you defend such challenges.
A probate lawyer can also help you identify whether a formal administration is the only way to handle the assets in question. In some cases, a “summary” process is available to certain beneficiaries.
How a Probate Lawyer Helps Personal Representatives
Both Florida law and individual courts impose deadlines by which a personal representative or executor must complete certain tasks and file certain documents. Some of the initial tasks are as follows:
- Identification and notification of heirs at law and designated beneficiaries
- Generation and publication of notices
- Opening estate checking account
- Applying for Tax Identification Number (EIN/TIN)
- Filing an inventory
A personal representative or executive will generate a list of all assets. A probate lawyer helps distinguish between probate and non-probate assets and determines the need for appraisals and ancillary estates. (An ancillary estate is required when, for example, someone dies owning real estate situated in another state.)
A lawyer can also help the personal representative collect money on behalf of the estate. If the decedent was due monthly payments or accounts receivable that do not terminate on death, a lawyer can help make sure that those payments continue without interruption.
Dealing with Creditors
An executor or personal representative owes fiduciary duties to creditors as well as beneficiaries in the probate process. Final medical expenses and funeral and burial expenses are among the most common. Other claims (and even liens) may exist for:
- Governmental taxing authorities
- Credit card-issuing banks or assignees
- Mortgage companies
- Executory contract holders
The lawyer will help the executor determine what assets to use to pay creditors. Sometimes grounds exist on which to challenge the creditor claim altogether. In other cases, if assets are insufficient to pay all claims, the court can approve a compromised amount. The estate will also incur administration expenses during the probate process. The executor uses estate assets to pay those expenses.
Disposition and Distribution of Property
Depending on the decedent’s wishes, the nature of the property involved, the interests of the beneficiaries, resolution of disputes, and resulting court orders, the executor may sell, transfer or otherwise re-title the decedent’s property. The probate lawyer helps the executor file an official accounting with the court to explain where all of the estate property went.
Sometimes if the administration of an estate becomes lengthy and depending on the estate assets, a probate lawyer can request permission for partial distributions to beneficiaries while the estate is pending.
When it comes to the transfer real estate, it is helpful to have a probate lawyer with real estate expertise. Attorney’s Title Services, LLC also focuses on real estate solutions for its clients.
How a Probate Lawyer Can Help Beneficiaries and Intended Beneficiaries
All interested parties have a right to counsel in the probate process. Sometimes beneficiaries do not trust the court-appointed executor or personal representative, or the beneficiaries have complex questions about their legal rights in the probate process. In those situations, beneficiaries consult with a probate lawyer independently of the lawyer representing the executor.
Sometimes there are disputes among beneficiaries. In those cases, the lawyer for the executor and the lawyer for the beneficiary can work together to resolve those disputes.
Litigation is sometimes necessary where an opportunistic individual or company has taken advantage of a particularly vulnerable donor. Intended beneficiaries can challenge a transfer made during the lifetime of the donor. If the donor did not transfer property during his/her lifetime but instead changed his/her estate planning documents, intended beneficiaries can challenge the validity of estate planning documents submitted to the probate court.
To learn more about how Attorney’s Title Services can help you, call (904) 260-0105 today.