Not every estate has to go through probate, but many do, and if your dearly departed Floridian forgot to make a will, in Florida you can count on it. If that’s the case for you, it would be great to know how long it’s going to take, right? Well, the timeline can vary based on the size of the estate and a few other factors. Let’s see how it works.
How Long Does Probate Take in Florida?
In most Florida probate situations, you’re looking at anywhere from three to 24 months.
You’re probably wondering what you can do to get through probate fast. Your chances of getting this job knocked out in a few months are higher if you have a small and simple estate to administer. But guess what we’re gonna say next? Exactly. The larger and more complex estates could run you closer to two years to finish up.
Let’s look in more detail at what impacts the full Florida probate timeline.
What Will Influence the Probate Timeline in Florida?
There are a few basic factors that come into play when guessing how long probate takes in Florida.
- The type of probate you’re using. There are two main types of probate in Florida, summary (which is quick) and formal (which ain’t). Summary probate only applies in cases where the estate of the deceased is valued at under $75,000, not to mention having no creditors.1 It’s quicker, but it’s not as common. The more likely form is formal probate, with a full process of supervision from the probate court. (Yeah, this kind takes more than just a couple of months.)
- Creditor claims upon the estate. Outstanding bills and debts can take some time to get resolved, which can slow probate down.
- The possibility of any heirs contesting the will. If any heirs (or maybe wannabe heirs) challenge something in or about the will, that will for sure add to the length of the probate.
In theory, you could be looking at a simple estate with summary probate, no big claims and no heirs challenging the will. In that case, your Florida probate might get wrapped up in a few months. But if your loved one’s estate has a contested will or lots of creditors, be prepared to stay the course for up to a year (or two).
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When Do You File the Will for a Florida Probate?
If you are the executor named in the will, the deadline for filing is within 10 days of first learning of the death.2
We all know grief is hard. If you’re facing that today, take all the time you need! Just know that if you’re responsible for handling probate in the state of Florida, filing the will with the probate court comes into play pretty quickly after death.
Filing the will is a step the state of Florida requires any time someone dies with assets solely in their name. Just be sure to get it filed promptly. From there, you’ll have some breathing room to grieve and take time with your next steps.
What Happens if Someone Dies Without a Will in Florida?
In case you’re new to probate, the purpose of opening the case is so the probate court can look at the will, if there is one, and start the process of distributing property to heirs. Unfortunately, many people every year pass away without a will in place—something called intestacy. Most of the time the court will appoint the decedent’s (the person who passed on) spouse or next of kin as the executor of estate. That means the deceased doesn’t get to decide who gets their stuff—and they don’t get to decide who’s in charge of their estate. That’s no bueno. You can avoid all that completely by making a will. Don’t let legal confusion complicate an already hard time for your family. A will makes probate a whole lot easier on everyone!
What Are the Main Steps on the Florida Probate Timeline?
If you’re the executor or personal representative in a probate case, both you and your family have steps to take. Keeping these steps in mind can help smooth out the Florida probate timeline.
You’ll need to stay in close communication with the probate court to be sure you’re taking care of each step legally and fairly for the creditors and heirs.
Every estate will of course be a little unique. But here’s a general list of the major milestones most people will see along the Florida probate timeline (By the way, the steps will be roughly the same without a will. The probate court will just appoint an administrator of estate and proceed to step two.)
1. File the Will
As we said, without a will the probate court will appoint an administrator. But if there is a will, filing it is essential. We already noted this step above since it’s such a quick deadline, but it’s worth a reminder—you have 10 days from learning of the decedent’s death to deposit the will with the Florida probate court.
2. Notify the Executor by Letters of Administration
This one’s on the probate court, but watch for it to happen anywhere from a week to a month after you file the will. The court will send documents—officially known as letters of administration—to the executor (sometimes known as the personal representative). Most wills have already named this person, but if not, the court will appoint someone to do the job.
3. Let Any Heirs and Beneficiaries Know Probate Is Happening
Florida law requires the executor to notify all beneficiaries in the will that an estate administration is under way (the same law applies for any other potential heirs if the decedent died without a will). Once they know what’s happening, all interested parties have just 90 days to challenge any of these three things:3
- The will itself
- The choice of executor or administrator of estate
- Anything else that seems fishy about how the probate is unfolding
4. Notify Creditors by Publication or Formal Notice
If you’re the personal representative in a Florida probate, it’s up to you (and your lawyer if you’re using one) to find out if the deceased had any creditors with claims on the estate and inform them of the death pronto! How do you do it? It’s easy! You have to publish the fact in a public medium (often a newspaper) for two consecutive weeks.4 Use the same communication to let creditors know that the probate process has started. From the time of publication, creditors have 90 days to make a claim against the estate for settlement of debts.5 You can also speed up probate with creditors you already know about by sending those parties a separate document, known as a Formal Notice, that gives them 30 days to respond.6
5. Provide the Probate Court With Proof of Death
This is another formality similar to depositing the will with the court, but in this case you have up to 90 days from first notifying creditors to get it done.7 The 90-day window assumes you’re following formal probate. If you’re pursuing summary administration in Florida, you’ll need to file the proof of death before you apply for probate. What do you give them? Usually a copy of the death certificate from the county health department where the person died.
6. Make an Inventory of the Estate’s Assets
This is exactly what it sounds like: You need a thorough list of everything the decedent had in their estate that includes each item’s assessed value. As with all the other milestones in this timeline, you’ll need to provide the court with your final inventory and asset values. And you’ll need to share the same document with all of the estate’s beneficiaries. The purpose here is to be sure all parties are getting what’s due to them according to the will, and that if you decide to sell any part of the estate, you (and the heirs) are getting a fair market value for it.
7. Answer Creditor Claims
Remember those notices you sent to creditors earlier in probate? It’s possible you’ll hear back from some of them! If you do (and if they’re still acting within the 30- or 90-day legal window for making claims), you’ll need to answer their claims in one of two ways. Either:
- Pay the creditor(s) from the estate, or
- Object to debts you believe are being collected in error and do so within 30 days from the date you learn of the claim. If you go this route, the creditor will then have 30 days either to waive their claim or file a counter-objection with the probate court against the estate if they want to keep fighting. (This part of probate is not a lot of fun!)
8. Take Action on Behalf of the Surviving Spouse
Maybe you are the surviving spouse. Or maybe you’ve been appointed to administer the estate on their behalf. Either way, you need to be aware (or notify the surviving spouse) of a special option in Florida probate law. It says surviving spouses have two options when it comes to their deceased spouse’s estate, which are:
- Just accept exactly what’s been laid out in the will, or
- Invoke special rights to the home they shared, a defined share of the estate, and certain exempt property
In general, surviving spouses have six months from the start of probate to decide if they want to use their special rights. After that, they’ll be locked into receiving whatever their spouse left them in the will itself.
9. Pass Along the Loot (Otherwise Known as the Assets)
You’re nearly done! When all of the claims against the estate have been addressed—and not a second earlier to be sure you’re buttoned up legally—you get to step into the most fun part of probate. And what’s that? Passing out the loot! As the executor of estate, you get to give out whatever’s remaining. Of course, you’ll be faithfully following everything the deceased laid out in their will.
Here’s another step to take you might not have thought about: Have all the beneficiaries sign a document stating they’ve gotten their legal due according to the will. It’s up to you, the executor, to deposit the documents with the probate court as proof you’ve done your duty to distribute the estate’s assets to all legal heirs. This step needs to be sewn up within one year after the heirs have received their letters of administration from the court.
10. Closure of the Estate
Finished? Yes. It might have been a few months or a couple of years, but it’s over. The only thing left to do now is file one last petition, formally closing the estate. You’re done!
Make Your Florida Will
Thinking through the Florida probate timeline, one thing should be obvious—the whole process is much simpler with a will! And it should make you think about how you really need a will of your own.
If you’re ready to make your Florida will, you’ll want to work with an expert who also has a heart—because knowledge and caring are both crucial. Making a will is one of the most obvious ways to show your family you care. And guess what? It’s easy to make your own attorney-built, Florida-specific will in less than 20 minutes! We recommend working with RamseyTrusted Provider Mama Bear Legal Forms. All you need to do is answer a few questions, and the rest is done for you. Best of all? This process won’t bog you down with a lot of nonsense legal jargon. Take this step today!