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October 9, 2020

Knowing what the first steps to take with the remaining property and assets of a loved one after they die is not always straightforward in the state of Florida. If you are a designated personal representative of the decedent’s estate, there are several steps for you to legally navigate the administration of their assets and belongings.

It is normal for a close family member or trusted individual to take care of legal and financial matters according to the will left behind and/or through the probate process. Also known as an executor, this personal representative gets chosen by the deceased before their passing. This designee must follow the requirements of the will if there is one in place. To accomplish this task, you should become familiar with the many different steps that probate involves distributing assets and estate property. Doing so will help you prepare ahead of time, making the process more streamlined and less likely to have a mistake occur.

Gather Necessary Documentation for Florida Probate Procedures

One of the most important first steps for an executor is taking possession of any legal records that belonged to the deceased. You will need these documents to make it possible to transfer any money and property to the rightful heirs, as well as using funds from the estate to pay creditors their outstanding balances.

There are many types of documents that will serve this purpose, including:

  • The most recent version of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament to assist in the distribution of personal belongings like heirlooms, jewelry, art, and other home furnishings. This should also include any recent document.
  • Several official copies of the original Death certificate. When ordering this document, make sure to get at least 5, with a couple in long-form and the remaining in short. The difference between these two versions is the long-form has the cause of death while the short style does not.
  • Have the past three years worth copies of the deceased’s income tax returns.
  • If there is a life insurance policy(ies) in place for the decedent, it is vital to gather all of this paperwork together right away.
  • For real estate, motor vehicles, boats, and other property that has a deed or title, you need to have copies of all official documentation related to them.
  • Obtain copies of all banking and/or financial statements belonging to the deceased. These would include any brokerage or investment accounts, as well.
  • End-of-life bills and related documentation are also needed when preparing an estate for probate. These could include memorial service fees, funeral billing, and the receipt for the casket.

By gathering this documentation right away, it can avoid a future delay in the probate process due to missing paperwork. Having any needed documents already on order when you begin administering the estate will also prevent any mistakes in the distribution of the decedent’s property and assets.

Overview of Executor Duties After the Decedent’s Death

When attempting to open a formal probate estate, Florida law demands that the appointed executor have an attorney do so. This step ensures that any asset transfers and fiduciary duties are in accordance with government statute.

Once your counsel has started the probate process, as the personal representative of the state, you will be able to do the following:

Take Possession of all Financials

When the decedent passes away, it is vital to take possession of all financial assets and property as soon as possible. These effects could include:

  • Banking information and access (checkbooks and credit cards)
  • Rental property keys and access codes
  • Safe-deposit box content
  • Passwords to computers, social media accounts, and other passworded information
  • Storage keys and codes
  • Vehicle and real estate keys and passcodes

Submit The Will

According to Florida law, within ten days of the decedent passing away, you must submit the will to the clerk of court. This deadline is to safeguard it from becoming lost, destroyed, or stolen.

Perform an Accounting of all Property

It is important to perform your duties as an executor of an estate with transparency. One way to accomplish this is to prove an accounting of the estate to its heirs, beginning from the day the decedent passed away to the present.

Secure Real Estate Premises

Lock all real estate premises to keep the household contents secure.

Determine Creditors Owed

Another vital step to managing the decedent’s estate is to assess all financial obligations. Determine if there are any creditors with outstanding balances and speak with your estate attorney about what steps to take regarding any lingering debt.

Change the Decedent’s Address

To help you discover any outstanding assets or bills that may not be in paperwork currently in the estate, be sure to put in a change of address so that any unknown property or debts can get discovered.

File the Final Tax Return

Consult with your chosen estate attorney about the preparation of the decedent’s income tax filing for their final year of life if necessary.

Conduct an Inventory of the Estate

Once appointed as executor of an estate, you have 60 days to conduct an inventory and submit the findings to the probate court and heirs.

Common Assets that Avoid Probate

While there are numerous types of assets of the decedent that will go through the probate process, there are several that do not, including:

  • Assets that belong to a living trust
  • Joint tenancy assets like a family home owned by both spouses or a joint bank account.
  • Assets that have a beneficiary already designated (Pay on death accounts, life insurance policy proceeds, etc.)

Don’t Delay in Hiring an Experienced Probate Attorney

Make critical estate decisions with confidence and work with an experienced Florida probate lawyer when preparing your loved one’s property and assets for the probate process. At The Legacy Law Firm, we work with you to protect the best interests of the decedent’s assets and beneficiaries. Call us today at (954) 999-9683 or contact us online to discuss your unique situation, learn more, and get started.