What Happens at a Probate Court Hearing?
If you have recently lost a loved one, you may have heard the word “probate” thrown around. You may not know what it means, or what happens during a probate court hearing. If that’s the case, you’re in the right place.
What is Probate?
After someone dies, even if they have a will, their estate enters probate, which is the court-supervised process in which the deceased’s assets are distributed to bill collectors, taxes, and inheritors. While it’s court-supervised, the court usually won’t get too involved, unless there is conflict among family over the estate, or if you pass with creditors. The probate process in Florida is actually somewhat easier than other states, as Florida is one of 16 states who have adopted the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a way to streamline the process, make it simpler, and give executors more flexibility. Probate is essentially the court accepting the will and putting it into effect.
In a UPC state like Florida, there are three types of probate: Informal, unsupervised formal, and supervised formal. Though simplified, this process can take 6 months – 1 year. That is why prior planning is critical.
The first step of probate involves the executor of the will finding the will. If there are several wills, the latest one is the one that is valid and should be filed. If there is an amendment to a will, this must be filed with it.
When the will is filed with the court, it is filed with a petition asking the court to approve and accept the will, thereby putting it into effect. The executor of the will is responsible for moving it through the probate process, as well as managing and distributing the assets to the beneficiaries.
At the initial court hearing, the judge will make a decision on whether to grant an order of probate. If there are any issues with the information the judge is reviewing, or if the judge requests additional information, it’s common for the judge to ask for a continuance of the hearing, where the case will be reviewed again at a later date.
Letters of Administration
Once the judge signs and grants the order for probate, it’s up to the county clerk to issue what is called the letters of administration. These “letters” are one of the most important parts of the probate process. The judge may also require a bond on the personal representative to ensure that they do not cause any negligence to the decedent’s estate.
Through the “letters,” a timeline for the probate process is established. The letters also recognize the legal representatives of the estate. This is usually the executor.
The executor then has responsibilities in the probate process. The heirs and beneficiaries of the will are legally notified, and given the opportunity to contest the will, if they believe it’s invalid. Then, an inventory of the estate is taken, assets are appraised, and all assets and debts of the deceased are reported to the court. A value is placed on the estate, creditors are notified of the probate process in order to file a claim, and a bank account is established for the estate.
Next, outstanding bills and debts are paid. Taxes, including estate and income taxes, are also paid.
Finally, a petition for final distribution is filed. A second court hearing will be scheduled nine to 12 months out. At this hearing, the judge will look to make sure the timeline has been met. The judge will also look at whether the executor fulfilled their duties correctly, and ensure all creditors have been paid. If the judge is satisfied, they will sign and issue the final order to close the estate and make distributions to the heirs. Once this happens, the executor can distribute all remaining assets to beneficiaries and the estate will be closed.
Hire a Probate Attorney
Probate can be a long and somewhat arduous task, depending on the estate. Speaking with an knowledgeable probate lawyer may help the process run smoother, in order to get a faster resolution. Call The Mattar Firm to ensure you are properly represented during your family’s probate proceeding.