Probate is a court-supervised process for identifying, gathering, and distributing an individual’s assets, transferring the title of the assets to the beneficiaries of the probate estate, and resolving any mandatory creditor claims. It can be a time-consuming and costly process, requiring the filing of specialized documents and compliance with specific laws and procedures.
While many states have a “small estate affidavit” that allows for an expedited administration process, Florida instead provides two alternative procedures for smaller probate estates: Disposition of Personal Property without Administration and summary administration. If the probate estate qualifies for one of these options, the heirs of the estate can significantly reduce the cost and time it takes to transfer the estate’s assets to their name.
Probate in Florida for Small Estates: The Basics
A “small estate affidavit” is a legal document authorizing an heir to claim certain assets after the owner has passed without having to go through the probate process.
While it is a more straightforward approach to asset distribution than traditional probate, as the name suggests, the small estate affidavit is permitted only for estates of a certain size: If the decedent’s estate exceeds a certain value set by state law, a small estate affidavit is not available, meaning the beneficiaries must often wait until probate is completed to receive their assets. Depending on the circumstances and complexities of the estate, this can take a few months to over a year.
Unlike many other states, Florida does not have a small estate affidavit process. However, it does have comparable alternative options for expediting the transfer of assets from a decedent.
Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration
Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration is often the fastest available alternative to probate in Florida, as it allows the beneficiaries of an estate to receive the decedent’s remaining assets without going through probate (i.e., court administration).
The caveat is that it only applies to estates that are significantly smaller than average. Specifically, this option applies to estates where the decedent’s remaining assets are less than the total amount of their final expenses, such as end-of-life care and funeral costs.
Other property that can be disposed via Disposition without Administration includes up to $20,000 in furniture and household items, up to two motor vehicles (under a specific poundage), funds held in qualified tuition programs (per Internal Revenue Code §529), and some other benefits. If the deceased owned any real estate that was owned solely in the deceased’s name or jointly but without a right of survivorship, then Disposition of Personal Property without Administration is not an option.
Fortunately, if an estate does not qualify for Disposition without Administration, it may still qualify for summary administration. Although this type of administration is much more involved than Disposition without Administration, it is still less demanding than formal probate administration.
Summary administration applies to estates where the total amount of non-exempt assets is less than $75,000 or if the decedent passed away more than two years ago. An example of an exempt asset is homestead property (i.e., your primary residence). Homestead property can be of any value and the estate may still qualify for summary administration. Summary administration is often less costly and time-consuming than formal administration.
Is It Necessary to Hire an Attorney for a Florida Probate?
While Florida law does not require an attorney to be hired for either Disposition without Administration or summary administration, it is highly advisable to get professional legal advice and guidance for all types of asset distribution from a decedent’s estate. This is because these options, though comparatively smoother and easier than a formal probate administration, are still legal processes that require compliance with state and local laws and regulations. Summary administration is especially more involved, as it is a court process and requires the drafting of specific legal documents that must comply with relevant Florida law.
How We Can Help
An experienced probate attorney can help you determine which option is better for your circumstances and how to comply with Florida’s probate requirements. If you wish to save time and make the probate process as stress-free as possible, call us at (800) 604-1871, or email us at Probate@JFRealEstateLaw.com. We handle probate matters throughout the State of Florida.