In SW Florida Counties such as Lee County, Charlotte, County, Hendry and Collier County, there are the same probate procedures available as in the rest of the State of Florida. All of the Probate Rules and Procedures are codified in Statutes and are unified for all over the State of Florida. There are three main probate processes which you should be familiar with if you have a loved one that passes away and probate is necessary in Florida: disposition without administration, summary administration, and formal probate administration.
At the outset, as always, if you are presented with a legal problem, you should hire an experienced attorney who specializes in that area of law. If you need knee surgery, you are not going to schedule an appointment with a general family practitioner or someone that practices general medicine. Law is no different. Hire an attorney who specializes in the area you are having an issue in. No one can be an expert on all areas and processes of law. Hiring a specialized attorney will leave you confident that you have an advocate who is specialist in your area and will help you navigate the waters in a professional fashion. You will receive better results.
The first probate process, called Disposition without Administration, is the smallest, simplest, and easiest to navigate if the decedent’s estate is small and meets certain criteria. This process is codified in Fla. Stat. §735.301. In this probate procedure, the value of the assets must be less than the value of the funeral expenses and reasonable and necessary medical or hospital expenses in the last sixty (60) days of the last illness. If you do not meet these very narrow qualifications, you will not get relief from the courts under this probate rule. If your circumstances do meet these qualifications, this is the simplest, cheapest and easiest process available. Consult an attorney for additional details.
The second probate procedure is Summary Administration. This process is basically a stripped down and faster version of formal probate. In order to qualify for this shortcut probate procedure, you must have qualified assets to probate with a value of less than $75,000.00 or the decedent must be dead for more than 2 years. By qualified assets, I mean the value of those assets that are not otherwise exempt under probate rules. Under this probate procedure, it is possible to fully administer an estate and transfer assets in less than one month. But beware, there are risks and different options available while using this probate procedure. The risks and options should be discussed thoroughly with a qualified probate attorney before utilizing.
Finally, there is formal probate. If you don’t qualify for either of the two mentioned procedures above, this is the only process that remains. This process can take anywhere from 4-12 months or longer depending on many different variables. Unlike in summary probate administration in which it is optional, the courts require you to perform a notice to creditors in formal probate. A notice to creditors requires that you publish the death of the decedent in a newspaper of local circulation two consecutive times and wait three months to see if any creditors file claims to get paid from the estate. There are also accountings, inventories and notices that are unique to formal probate but not required in summary administration or disposition without administration. Retaining the right attorney to aid you in this process can mean the difference between a smooth ride or a frustrating rollercoaster. Choose wisely.