One question the most frequent questions our Jacksonville estate planning lawyers receive is how long does a probate case in Florida take? Often the best answer to how long a Florida Probate Case takes is “it depends.” The answer usually depends on how vast and complex the decedent’s estate is if there are a lot of beneficiaries or if there is any litigation involved the estate.
A Probate Case in Florida Can End Quickly or Take Years to Complete
A probate case in Florida can be quick if the estate is small and there are not any complicated procedural issues. Simple estates can be fully probated in as little as a few weeks or as long as few months. Something the county where the probate case is located can affect how long a Florida Probate case takes
Typically the quickest type of probate case in Florida is called a summary administration. A summary administration is Florida can be over in a few weeks to a few months. An estate will be eligible for summary administration if the value of the probate assets is less than $75,000. It may be difficult or cause delays in a summary administration in Florida if there are unpaid creditors. A Probate case in Florida may also qualify for summary administration if the decedent has been dead for more than two years.
Sometimes we caution our clients not to automatically file for a summary administration because the court does not appoint a personal representative. Therefore, a personal representative will not be appointed to deal with any claims, creditors, taxes, or disputes that come to light during the probate process.
If the estate does not qualify for summary administration, then a probate case in Florida is typically 4-5 months, but litigation or disputes can push the time out past a year. Many Probate lawyers in Jacksonville have seen cases take longer than necessary. I have seen a large estate in Florida that was open for more than 19 years. Florida permits creditors 2 years to file claims against creditors, but once notice is provided (actual or by publication for unknown creditors) creditors have a maximum of 3 months to file claims against an estate. The personal representative must send actual notice to any known creditors and wait for any unknown creditors to make a claim. This three-month statutory period begins on the publication date of the first notice to creditors.
Usually, top Jacksonville estate planning attorneys try to start the process as quickly as possible once a client hires us to probate a will. Sometimes there are reasons to wait to file the probate which includes the elimination of claims. This filing process and the time it takes for a Florida probate court to order probate takes a few weeks. This process can be quicker if the beneficiaries of an estate waive their right to an estate accounting. The process is also quicker if the estate has no creditors. If these events occur, then we expect the probate process to last only 3-5 months.
Longer Probate Cases in Florida
If the Florida estate is larger or more complex, then a Florida probate case can last a year or more. The beneficiaries will often ask for an accounting when the estate is large, there are disputes, or significant inheritances are at stake. The Florida probate code allows a statutory period for beneficiaries to inspect the estate and to object if he or she finds an error or mistake in the estate accounting.
Sometimes the probate process can take even longer than a year. If there is a will dispute, wrongful death claims, or another type of litigation, such as when the personal representative disagrees about the amount a creditor is owed, then the probate process may take years for a court to resolve. Probate can also take a long time if the court cannot find the beneficiary or the original will. If the estate owes taxes, whether federal or state, it can also take months to resolve.
One way to Avoid long probate cases in Florida
One solution to avoiding a lengthy probate case is to bypass probate all together. This can be achieved using a Florida living trust, which is also known as the revocable trust. In some cases, other types of trusts are used. Assets in a Florida trust do not pass through probate because the assets are legally owned by the trust rather than the decedent. Revocable trusts still have many formal requirements, such as the requirement to pay taxes and creditors. Some irrevocable trusts can make the assets exempt from creditors by using a Florida Asset Protection Trust.
Distribution of assets after death can be much quicker when using trusts in Florida because a Jacksonville estate planning attorney usually irons out the procedural issues that can hold up probate. Instead of a personal representative, a trustee, who can often administer the estate quicker than a personal representative, distributes the assets of the trust instead of the estate. The trustee can often do this quicker because he or she does not need court approval for every step of probate case in Florida. For more information on how to avoid a long probate process contact The Law Office of David Goldman PLLC at 904-685-1200 today.