Chapter 733 of the Florida Statutes, titled “Administration of Estates,” governs probate administration. The administration of an estate is the legal distribution of a person’s assets and the payment or resolution of their liabilities in probate court after they pass away. Administration of an estate will be either “testate” or “intestate”. An estate is testate if the decedent passed away with a valid Last Will and Testament in place. An estate is intestate if the decedent passed away without a Last Will and Testament or if a decedent’s Will is subsequently determined to be invalid. Florida’s intestate laws provide a default process to distribute a decedent’s property that is not properly devised by a Will. Florida’s intestate succession statutes designate certain individuals as heirs of intestate estates and specify how the assets of such an estate are to be distributed. Intestacy succession may be whole or partial. For example, partial intestate succession will occur if a person passes away with a Will but it does not dispose of all of his or her assets. In that situation the terms of the Will control the distribution of the assets included (testate succession) and the assets not included or addressed by the Will are distributed pursuant to Florida’s intestate succession statutes.
In Florida, there are two types of probate administration proceedings: Formal administration and Summary administration. Formal administration is required when the decedent's estate is valued at more than $75,000. Summary administration is a simplified form of probate used for estates whose assets do not exceed $75,000 or when the decedent has been deceased for more than two years. In contrast, no administration or formal proceeding is required if a decedent's estate leaves only personal property exempt under the provisions of §732.402; this process is known as disposition without administration. The following is a simplified version of the probate process.
Opening an estate includes:
- If administration is necessary, a petition for order of appointment of personal representative must be filed.
- If there is a will, a petition must be filed with the court admitting the will and any codicils to probate and for the appointment of personal representative.
- A personal representative must file an oath of personal representative; and, if required an, agent's bond.
- Furthermore, the personal representative must serve notice of the impending estate administration to all interested parties, including family members, beneficiaries, trustees, and publishing notice for any potential creditors.
Closing the estate includes:
- Once the personal representative has fully administered the estate, all claims, which were presented, have been paid, settled, or otherwise disposed of, and the taxes and expenses of administration have been paid, the Florida probate court may conclude that estate administration is complete and a petition to close the estate must be filed.
- The personal representative must provide a formal accounting of all actions taken during the administration of the estate to provide a clear record of how all assets were distributed.
- The court will then approve the accounting and, after the distribution is complete, discharge the personal representative and close the estate.