Florida Probate: What to Do When a Loved One Dies

When a loved one dies, there are many details that need to be handled, including navigating the Florida probate process. Even though this is an emotional time for the deceased’s loved ones, attention and time must also be given to certain estate matters. 

While you are informing others of the death and planning the funeral arrangements, there are some practical matters that can be understandably overlooked. In most cases, there is no need to rush, though some tasks are time sensitive. Here is a quick guide for how to deal with some of the tasks that must be completed when a loved one dies leaving property in Florida.

1. Gather Necessary Documents

You will need copies of the death certificate to get life insurance benefits and prove to various institutions that your loved one has passed on. It is a good idea to order at least four certified copies of the death certificate so you have enough on hand. At least on version should be without cause of death so that it can be recorded in the official records of the county where the deceased owned real estate. Also obtain a copy of the paid funeral bill, as it will often have to be filed with the probate court.

You must also locate the deceased’s Last Will & Testament. The original of that legal document will need to be filed with the probate court. If the deceased left a Living Trust Agreement, obtain a copy of that as well. Also gather bank account and mortgages statements, loans statements, insurance documents, credit card account information, and other financial documents.

If there is a Last Will and Testament or Living Trust, it should state who is in charge of handling all the paperwork and legal matters of the deceased’s estate. This person is referred to as the executor or personal representative of the estate. Their role is to manage the deceased’s estate and make sure that their assets are properly distributed and that any valid credit claims are paid. The original Last Will and Testament must be filed with the probate court within 10 days of the notice of death. If there is no Will, the court will appoint someone – usually the surviving spouse or an adult child – to be in charge of the deceased’s probate estate.

2. Notify Relevant Parties

If your loved one is collecting Social Security benefits, you need to inform the Social Security Administration immediately to avoid problems with checks issued after the date of death. The same may hold true for pension funds and any other sources of monthly income.

Also notify the property appraiser’s office of any homestead tax benefits that the deceased was receiving so that those benefits can be cut off.

3. Prevent Identity Theft

Unfortunately, some families discover too late that their loved one’s identity has been stolen and used to apply for credit cards, loans, and other unauthorized activity. Here are some identity theft prevention recommendations to preclude this from happening to you or your family:

  • Keep tabs on access to financial information. If you have an elderly relative who had in-home care or had entered a senior care facility, be sure their financial information is kept in a safe (preferably locked) location. Always know exactly who has access to this information.
  • Make timely death notifications to help protect against improper use of a deceased’s Social Security number. Ask the estate executor to notify the proper state and federal agencies as soon as possible.
  • Keep an eye out for fraud since identity thieves can quickly run up debts in the deceased’s name.
  • Document online accounts. Keep a list of bank and social media accounts and login information so that the accounts can be properly frozen or closed out.

4. Hire an Experienced Probate Attorney

Handling the assets of a loved one’s estate can be an overwhelming task, especially when you are still grieving their death. An experienced and compassionate probate attorney is vital for helping you navigate the intricacies of handling your loved one’s estate to ensure that assets are properly liquidated and distributed, and that all valid creditor claims are handled. This is a trying time, and working with a legal professional who has daily experience handling these matters can be invaluable. The attorney will also advise you on what type of probate is best suited for your deceased’s estate.

To learn more about our probate services and for a free consultation with a Florida probate attorney, please call us at (800) 604-1871 or send an email to Probate@JFRealEstateLaw.com. We provide real estate, probate, estate planning, and title/closing services throughout the State of Florida.