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The estate planning process: What is probate?

Many people fear probate, but they aren't sure what it is or how it works. In essence, probate is a name for a court process whereby a judge determines the validity of a will and chooses a person to be the executor of the estate administration process. In Florida, the probate process is complicated.

In many cases, probate involves a dispute between the heirs of a decedent, and it is left to a judge to determine how an estate is handled. Avoiding probate litigation is a key reason for having a well written will and a comprehensive estate plan, but some families find themselves in the probate process regardless.

One factor to consider is the public nature of court proceedings. When a case is opened, it becomes part of the public record, meaning that a family's personal finances are an open book and any debts and assets from the decedent's life are now public knowledge.

The probate process can take between six and eight months for even a simple case, and the process can drag on for years in complex cases. Because the family of the decedent is caught up in a legal process for an extended period, probate has the potential to lengthen the amount of time it takes to grieve the loss of a loved one.

There are good reasons to avoid the probate process. By creating a legally binding and up-to-date estate plan, you can avoid probate. Speaking to an attorney who is well versed in Florida estate planning can help get the necessary documents in order. Families who want to resolve asset disputes via the probate process should also speak with an attorney about the family's specific goals.

Source: TCPalm, "The problem with probate," Robert Schwartz, Jan. 23, 2014

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