David Howard Goldberg, P.L.

Steps of estate administration and probate

When someone dies, the estate of the deceased may go through the probate process to legally transfer the property to the heirs, pay any lingering debts and close the affairs of the deceased. While this sounds simple, the probate process can be complex, especially if issues or conflicts arise among the heirs. Barring these complications, however, estate administration generally follows a logical pattern.

As soon as possible after the loved one's death, family members should locate the will, if one exists. Even without a will, the steps of probate will be the same, starting with opening the estate in Florida probate court. At this time, the court will approve the executor named in the will or appoint an administrator who will handle the remaining steps of probate.

The job of the estate executor or administrator includes creating an inventory of the departed's assets. This may be a challenge if the deceased had stocks, intellectual property or multiple financial accounts. The executor must value and protect those assets until probate ends, at which time they will be distributed to the heirs.

Before that time, the executor must pay any of the deceased's remaining debts in the correct order. The right to first claim belongs to the IRS, so the executor will file the final income tax return for the deceased as well as one for federal estate tax, if necessary. Other creditors can then claim their share, and the executor may need to sell some assets to cover these bills.

The executor will ultimately submit an accounting to the probate court for approval to distribute the remaining assets according to the will or Florida law. Even this summary of estate administration may seem complicated with frequent opportunities for error and missteps. This is why many executors and administrators seek the advice of a probate attorney who has skill and experience to avoid those common and costly errors.

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