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What happens during the probate process in Florida?

It is generally only after someone's death that the process of settling their estate and distributing their assets can begin. If the decedent left a will or died without a will or trust, the estate will need to go through probate. But many Florida residents may not understand exactly what happens during this all important process. So here are some basic facts about probate.

The probate process is designed to distribute the assets of a decedent and it is supervised by the court. During probate, the personal representative of the decedent's estate proves to the court that the decedent has properly followed all legal requirements for their will so the choices and beneficiaries outlined in the document should be honored. This action is called "probating a will."

Probate can either be contested or uncontested. A contested probate usually means that someone is unhappy with their share of the decedent's will and that this person believes that they deserve a larger share. He or she will then have to prove to the court that the decedent's will is invalid. There are a number of grounds to challenge a will, including claims that the testator prepared and executed the will under undue influence or with insufficient mental capacity, or that another will trumps the one offered in probate.

If the decedent's will is not contested, then the court will follow the basic probate process. This includes gathering all of the decedent's property, paying all outstanding debts that the decedent may have had, and distributing the assets according to the decedent's will. The court can also use the probate process to settle any disputes.

One drawback to the probate process is that there are fees associated with it. These can include court costs, attorneys' fees and fees for the personal representative. There are ways to avoid probate through the use of gifts, titling of real estate in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, beneficiary designations for non-probate assets, and revocable trusts. Any Florida resident interested in exploring these options can benefit from consulting an estate planning attorney.

Source: www.estate.findlaw.com, "The probate basics", Accessed June 16, 2015

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