How Does Probate Litigation Work In Florida

Losing a loved one is hard. Worrying about the deceased’s estate only adds stress to the situation. Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s estate is administered and distributed under court supervision.

It involves submitting and validating the deceased person’s will in the proper Florida court, identifying and inventorying assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing remaining assets to beneficiaries.

But how does probate work in Florida, and what are Florida’s probate laws? Read on to learn more about the process and when you need the assistance of a Florida probate attorney.

What Is Probate?

The Florida Probate Code governs estate distribution in the state. The primary purposes of probate in Florida are to ensure payment of the deceased person’s debts, taxes, and other obligations, to transfer the legal title of the deceased person’s property to the beneficiaries, and to resolve any disputes that may arise regarding the distribution of the estate. 

How to File for Probate in Florida

Florida probate proceedings follow specific steps outlined by state law. It begins with filing a petition in the circuit court in the county where the deceased person resided. 

  • File the petition. The petition requests the court to admit the will to probate and appoint a personal representative to administer the estate.
  • Appointment of the personal representative. The court will appoint a personal representative, either as named in the will or as determined by Florida law if there is no will.
  • Inventory of assets. The personal representative must identify and inventory the deceased person’s assets, including real estate, bank accounts, investments, and personal property. 
  • Notify creditors. State law requires that the personal representative publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper, notifying them of the probate proceedings and the deadline for filing claims against the estate. Creditors must then file their claims against the estate within a specified period, usually three months from the notice publication date. 
  • Payment of debts and taxes. The estate may be subject to federal or state estate taxes, depending on the estate’s value. The personal representative is responsible for filing any necessary tax returns and paying any taxes owed.
  • Distribution of assets. Once all debts, taxes, and expenses are paid, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the terms of the will or Florida law if there is no will.

Seek the advice of a Florida probate lawyer if you have any questions or need help with the probate process. 

When Does a Probate Case Need to Be Litigated?

When conflicts arise during the probate process in Florida, litigation may be necessary to resolve disputes and ensure fair and proper distribution of the estate.

Disputes Among Beneficiaries

Beneficiaries may dispute the will’s validity if they believe there was improper execution, the deceased person lacked the mental capacity to make a will, or if undue influence or fraud was involved. Beneficiaries may also disagree over the distribution of assets, especially if the will is unclear or if there are questions about the deceased person’s intentions.

Creditor Disputes

Creditors may challenge the validity or priority of their claims against the estate, leading to litigation to determine the amount and order of payment. In these situations, the personal representative may need to defend against fraudulent claims made by individuals seeking to benefit from the estate unlawfully.

Personal Representative Disputes

Beneficiaries or creditors may seek the removal of the personal representative if they believe they are not fulfilling their duties or are acting inappropriately. A common allegation is that the personal representative has breached their fiduciary duty by mismanaging assets, failing to account for estate transactions, or engaging in self-dealing.

Incapacity or Undue Influence

Individuals may contest a will based on claims that the deceased person lacked the mental capacity to make a will or that the making of the will was the result of undue influence.

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Florida Probate Litigation Process

Probate litigation in Florida typically begins when a party files a petition or complaint with the probate court outlining their claims or objections. The proceedings may involve various hearings, motions, and discovery processes to gather evidence and information relevant to the case.

  • Initial petition. The first step in probate litigation is where a party formally submits a petition or complaint to the probate court outlining their claims or objections regarding the estate. This document initiates the legal process and sets forth the issues in dispute.
  • Summons. After filing of the petition or complaint, the court issues summons or legal notices to notify all interested parties, including beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors, of the pending probate litigation. These notices inform the parties of their rights and obligations in the case.
  • Hearings, motion, and discovery. Probate litigation involves various court proceedings, including hearings to address legal issues or disputes, motions filed by parties to request specific actions or rulings from the court, and discovery processes to gather evidence and information relevant to the case.
  • Guardian ad litem. In cases involving minor or incapacitated beneficiaries, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent their interests during probate litigation. The guardian ad litem advocates for the best interests of the minor or incapacitated individual.
  • Trial and ruling.  During trial, both parties present their arguments and evidence, and the court decides based on the facts and applicable law. The court’s decision is binding and resolves the issues raised in the probate litigation.

This formal legal process aims to resolve disputes and ensure that the deceased person’s wishes are followed according to the law. During probate litigation, the parties may attempt resolution of their differences through mediation or settlement negotiations. 

Seek Legal Help

Navigating the probate process in Florida can be daunting, especially when litigation is involved, and having an experienced attorney’s help is crucial. Florida probate laws are complex and challenging to interpret without legal expertise.

Mistakes in probate proceedings can lead to delays, disputes, and additional expenses. An attorney can help you avoid these pitfalls and ensure the process runs smoothly. Whether you’re a beneficiary, creditor, or personal representative, an attorney can protect your rights and ensure your voice is heard in the probate process.

Contact BrewerLong

If you have questions or trouble with the probate process in Florida, the team at BrewerLong is here to help. Our attorneys have over ten years of experience and are proud to serve Floridians seeking legal assistance. Give us a call or fill out our online contact form to set up a consultation.  

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