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Estate Planning: A Summary of Probate

If you have a will, great job.  If you do not have a will, take a look at A Beginner’s Guide to Will and Testament Law to learn about what a will is and why you need one.

Choosing to create a will on your own is legal, but you should really consider enlisting the services of an experienced estate planning attorney in Florida because of two words: probate court.

What is Probate Court?

When it is time to execute a will, certain things must be done and verified before assets and liabilities can be dispersed and resolved respectively.  The responsibility of the court during the probate process is to:

  • Determine the validity of the will.
  • Determining what the assets are and their value.
  • Resolving liabilities.
  • Executing the distribution of remaining assets.

If the deceased did not have a will, the probate court will be appointed as executor by a judge.  This executor is responsible for proving which assets are yours, securing those assets, and presenting the court with a list of those assets.  If your liabilities exceed your available cash, the executor will be responsible for liquidating assets to resolve the liabilities.

Are All Assets Inaccessible During the Probate Process?

In short, no.  In Florida, exemptions (some temporary) to the probate process exist:

  • The homestead exemption allows people who lived with the decedent at the time of their death to stay in the home during the probate process.
  • The automobile exemption allows a family to maintain possession of up to two vehicles.
  • The household furnishing exemption allows family members to keep furniture, furnishings, and appliances up to $20,000 in value.
  • Certain college funds are protected.
  • Certain compensatory employee benefits, disability, and pensions can be exempt.

A more in depth description of these exemptions can be found here.

This list of assets is not comprehensive and you may be entitled to more exemptions.  If you are an executor, having the guidance of an experienced probate attorney can help you handle creditors and family members.  Dsouza and Strachan Lawgroup Group has been guiding families through the probate process for over 15 years.  Contact us for a free consultation.

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