Summary Probate Administration in Florida
Florida probate law provides for a form of probate procedure that results in the disposition of a decedent's assets without the necessity for lengthy or costly court proceedings. This process is known as summary administration.
For an estate to qualify for summary administration, either:
The value of the estate (not counting the value of property exempt from the claims of creditors) is less than $75,000; or
Or the decedent has been dead for more than two years
It's important to note that in Florida, exempt property includes a homestead, household furnishings and appliances, automobiles, qualified tuition trust funds and any other property deemed by a court to be exempt.
What Are the Advantages of Summary Administration?
Summary probate administration takes much less time, effort and expense than formal probate administration. It is well-suited to small estates because it facilitates their settlement and ensures support for dependents of a deceased breadwinner who possessed few assets.
Depending upon which county in Florida it occurs, the entire process can take from four to six weeks, although is some cases and jurisdictions, as long as several months.
If the decedent has been dead for more than two years, a summary administration can generally be obtained within four weeks of filing the necessary petition. This is especially true if there is no will or if the will is self-proving (witnessed by two or more individuals who certify that it was actually signed by the decedent).
How the Process of Summary Administration Works
Summary administration may be requested by an estate's beneficiary or by a person named in a will as its personal representative. The process begins when that person files a petition with the probate court. The petition must be signed and verified by any surviving spouse of the decedent and/or by any other beneficiaries joining in the petition request.
The exception comes in cases where the petitioner is a sole beneficiary who stands to receive a full share of the proposed distribution of the estate. Any beneficiary not joining the request must receive formal notice of the petition.
The petition must include:
A statement of interest by each petitioner and his or her name and address
The name and address of each petitioner's attorney
A statement attesting to the existence, or absence of, any other probate proceedings in another state or country
A statement verifying that the decedent's will, if any, does not direct formal administration of the estate
A description of all assets of the estate and their estimated value (which must not exceed a total of $75,000), or a statement that the decedent has been dead for more than two years
A separate description of any protected homestead or other exempt property
A schedule of proposed distribution of all probate assets and the person to whom each asset is to be distributed
Upon filing the petition, the personal representative must present the decedent's will, if there is one, to the court and get it admitted to probate. Florida statutes also require that any petitioner make a reasonable and "diligent" search for creditors, provide any found creditors with a copy of the petition and to ensure the creditors get paid if there are available assets.
The petition also must include a statement that the estate either is not indebted. If the estate is indebted, the petition should include names and addresses of known creditors, the nature and amount of the debt and how the debt will be paid and by whom.
Court Order for Summary Administration
Once a court is satisfied that all known creditors are dealt with adequately, that all debts owed to the decedent are identified and provided for and that all other requirements are met, it may issue an order for summary administration. This order sets the stages for the distribution of assets to rightful heirs and beneficiaries.
For up to two years, any claims against the estate by a creditor will be the liability of the recipients of the decedent's property. After two years, neither the decedent's estate nor any of its beneficiaries are liable for any new claims by creditors unless proceedings have already begun.
In Florida probate law, this two-year limitation is known as a "statute of repose." It provides a date certain after which a creditor's right of action is cut off.
Anyone who obtained an order of summary administration may choose to publish a public notice so that any unknown creditors know the total value of the estate and the names and addresses to whom it was assigned. The creditors then have three months to file claims against the estate. After three months, Florida statute bars any further claims against the estate or its beneficiaries from unknown creditors.
Any heirs of the decedent who were entitled to share in the estate but was not included in the order of summary administration may enforce their rights against the representative who secured the court order.