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Clearing the Path: Simplifying the Settlement of a Small Estate in Florida

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

When a loved one passes away, one of the challenges that their family and friends face is settling their estate. In the state of Florida, this process is known as probate. Probate can be a complex and time-consuming process, but it is a necessary step to ensure that the deceased person's assets are distributed correctly.


Photo: Sabbir Rahaman


Understanding the probate process in Florida is essential for anyone who may be involved in settling a small estate.


Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person's estate is administered and distributed. In Florida, probate is overseen by the courts and follows specific laws and regulations. The purpose of probate is to ensure that the deceased person's debts are paid, and their assets are distributed to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries. It is important to note that not all estates in Florida require probate. Small estates can often be settled through a simplified process known as summary administration.


Overview of small estates and summary administration


In Florida, a small estate is defined as one with a value less than $75,000. For small estates, the summary administration process can be used instead of the traditional probate process. Summary administration is a simplified procedure that allows for a faster settlement of the estate. It is designed to be less time-consuming and less expensive than the formal probate process.

To qualify for summary administration in Florida, certain requirements must be met. First, the decedent must have been deceased for at least two years. Second, the decedent's debts must have been paid or provided for. Finally, if the decedent had a will, it must have been properly executed and admitted to probate.



Requirements for qualifying as a small estate in Florida


To qualify as a small estate in Florida, the total value of the estate must be less than $75,000. This includes both probate and non-probate assets. Probate assets are those that are owned solely by the deceased person and do not have a designated beneficiary. Non-probate assets, on the other hand, are those that pass directly to a designated beneficiary, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts.

It is important to note that the value of the estate is calculated based on the fair market value of the assets at the time of the decedent's death. This means that any outstanding debts or mortgages are not deducted from the value of the estate.



Steps to settle a small estate through summary administration


The process of settling a small estate through summary administration in Florida involves several steps. The first step is to file a Petition for Summary Administration with the appropriate court. This petition must include all necessary information, such as the value of the estate, the names and addresses of the heirs or beneficiaries, and a list of the decedent's assets and liabilities.

Once the petition is filed, it must be served to all interested parties, including creditors. Interested parties have 20 days to object to the summary administration. If no objections are raised, the court will issue an order approving the summary administration.

After the court approves the summary administration, the next step is to distribute the assets of the estate. This involves transferring the assets to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries. It is important to keep careful records of all distributions made during this process.


Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration (DPPA) in Florida


In addition to summary administration, Florida also offers another option for the settlement of small estates. This option is known as the Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration (DPPA). The DPPA allows for the transfer of certain personal property to the rightful heirs without the need for probate or summary administration.


To qualify for the DPPA, the value of the personal property must be less than $6,000, and there must be no outstanding debts owed by the decedent. The personal representative of the estate can file a sworn statement with the court, listing the assets to be transferred and the names and addresses of the heirs. Once the court approves the sworn statement, the personal property can be distributed to the heirs.


Benefits of choosing summary administration for a small estate


Choosing summary administration for a small estate in Florida offers several benefits. First and foremost, it is a faster and more streamlined process than traditional probate. Summary administration allows for a quicker settlement of the estate, which means that the heirs can receive their inheritance sooner.


Additionally, summary administration is generally less expensive than formal probate. The court fees and attorney fees associated with summary administration are typically lower than those for formal probate. This can help to reduce the financial burden on the estate and the heirs.


Finally, summary administration is a more private process than formal probate. The details of the estate and its administration are not made public, unlike in formal probate cases. This can help to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the deceased person's affairs.


Common misconceptions about settling a small estate in Florida


There are several common misconceptions about settling a small estate in Florida. One common misconception is that probate is always required, regardless of the size of the estate. As mentioned earlier, small estates with a value of less than $75,000 can often be settled through summary administration or the DPPA, without the need for formal probate.


Another common misconception is that hiring a probate attorney is always necessary. While it is highly recommended to seek legal advice and assistance during the settlement of an estate, hiring a probate attorney is not always required, especially for small estates. However, it is important to note that the laws and procedures surrounding probate can be complex, and having the guidance of an experienced attorney can be invaluable.


Hiring a probate attorney for assistance with small estate settlement


Although hiring a probate attorney is not always required for the settlement of a small estate in Florida, it is highly recommended. An experienced probate attorney can provide valuable guidance and assistance throughout the process, ensuring that all legal requirements are met and that the estate is settled correctly.


A probate attorney can help with tasks such as preparing and filing the necessary documents, communicating with the court and interested parties, and ensuring that the proper distribution of assets is made. Additionally, a probate attorney can provide advice on how to handle any potential issues or disputes that may arise during the settlement process.


Important considerations when dealing with creditors in a small estate


When settling a small estate in Florida, it is important to consider the role of creditors. Creditors are individuals or entities that are owed money by the decedent. Before the assets of the estate can be distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries, the decedent's debts must be paid or provided for.


It is important to note that creditors have a limited amount of time to make a claim against the estate. In Florida, creditors have three months from the date of publication of the notice to creditors to file their claims. If a creditor fails to file a claim within this time period, their claim is generally considered to be waived.


To ensure that all creditors are properly notified and that their claims are handled correctly, it is highly recommended to seek the assistance of a probate attorney. An attorney can help with the proper notification of creditors and the negotiation and payment of any valid claims.



Conclusion


Settling a small estate in Florida can be a complex and daunting process. However, with a clear understanding of the probate process, the requirements for qualifying as a small estate, and the available options for settlement, it is possible to simplify the process and ensure a smooth and efficient resolution.

Whether you choose summary administration or the DPPA, it is important to carefully consider the benefits and requirements of each option. Seeking the assistance of a probate attorney can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the settlement process, ensuring that all legal requirements are met and that the estate is settled correctly.



If you have any concerns during your small estate settlement, do not hesitate to reach out. Call me today to discuss your specific situation and to get the assistance you need to navigate the probate process in Florida.





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