When Is Summary Administration of a Florida Estate Justified?
There are situations where formal probate of a Florida estate is unnecessary. In these cases a deceased person’s heirs can file a petition for summary administration, a simplified probate process. Normally, summary administration is only available after the decedent has been dead for at least 2 years (and no prior estate was opened) or the total value of the probate estate is less than $75,000.
Court Reopens Probate Estate After 15 Years Due to Improper Exclusion of Heirs
Even in a summary administration, however, there are certain legal formalities that must be observed. One of them is that all of the legal heirs must be notified. In the case of an intestate estate–i.e., where the decedent did not have a will–state law specifies who qualifies as an heir.
If an heir is excluded or omitted from the process, they may seek to reopen the summary administration process, even years later. For example, a Florida appeals court recently affirmed a probate judge’s earlier decision to reopen an estate that ostensibly closed in 2001. And just to make things more interesting, the estate itself involved a decedent who passed away in 1971.
While it is unusual for such a long time to elapse between a person’s death and the initiation of probate, it is also not unheard of. There are many scenarios where a deceased person’s ownership of a particular item of property is not discovered for years–or in this case decades–after their death. Here, two sisters petitioned the probate court for summary administration of their late mother’s estate after learning she owned a parcel of real property in St. Augustine. According to the petition, the sisters were the decedent’s only known heirs. After determining that all “interested persons” were notified of the summary administration, a probate court closed the estate, giving a one-half interest in the property to each sister.
But 15 years later, in 2016, three additional persons stepped forward and claimed they were also the decedent’s heirs. More precisely, the claimants were the biological children of one of the sisters, but they were legally adopted by the decedent (i.e., their grandmother) prior to her death. Furthermore, the claimants alleged they were never notified of the original summary administration proceeding.
A probate court conducted a non-evidentiary hearing and, finding the adoptions were legal, granted the petition to reopen summary administration and declare the claimants were also legal heirs of the decedent. One of the sisters and her son appealed the decision, but the California Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed the probate court, holding the claimants were not barred from reopening the estate despite the length of time that had elapsed.
Speak with a Florida Probate Administration Lawyer Today
Summary administration should never be used to short-circuit the probate process or deprive lawful heirs of their inheritance. Rather, it is a mechanism to ensure a prompt disposition of smaller and non-controversial estates. If you need advice or assistance from a qualified Fort Myers probate attorney with administering an estate, contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., at 239-333-4529 today.