Can a Florida Probate Estate Be Reopened?
Estate and probate administration is usually a straightforward process. The executor of the estate gathers a deceased individual’s assets, pays any final debts and administrative expenses, and distribute any remaining property to the decedent’s heirs or beneficiaries. At this point the estate is then closed with the probate court.
Reopening an Estate to Interpret and Enforce a Will
But what happens if an already-closed estate needs to be reopened later? This can happen if additional property belonging to the decedent is later discovered. And in fact, Florida probate court rules expressly permit “any interested person” to file a petition “for further administration” of an estate in just such an event.
A 2015 case from the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, Mathis v. Estate of Mathis, offers an example of when an estate can legally be reopened. In this case, a woman executed a will in 2003 leaving her “homestead property” to her daughter. The will further stated that if the daughter sold the homestead property for any reason, she must give 30 percent of the proceeds to the decedent’s son.
The decedent passed away shortly after signing her will. The probate estate was then administered and closed. As part of this process, the homestead property was transferred to the decedent’s daughter as directed by the will. A month after the estate was closed, however, the daughter sold the property but did not give her brother the 30-percent share as directed in the will.
This prompted the son to file a petition to reopen the probate estate. The probate court rejected the petition. But the Third District reversed, noting the son properly “sought the subsequent administration of the estate to determine his interest in the estate and to effectuate the provision in the will entitling him to receive 30 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the property after it was sold.”
No Reopening an Estate Based Solely on a Newly Discovered Will
This is just one type of scenario that might justify reopening a probate estate. As discussed above, another common situation is one where property that was previously undiscovered by the estate is found. For example, perhaps the decedent owned some shares of stock and the records were not located until a year after the close of probate. The estate could be reopened solely to administer that stock.
But one thing Florida law does not permit is reopening an estate based solely on the purported discovery of a new or different will. Let’s say a person died and no will was located. When this happens, the decedent’s estate is administered under Florida intestacy law. If the estate is distributed and closed, it cannot be reopened later just because someone managed to locate a will after the fact.
Of course, the best way to avoid the need for reopening an estate is to ensure the initial administration is as complete as possible. If you need advice or assistance in this area from an experienced Fort Myers estate planning attorney, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today to schedule a consultation.