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The 5 steps of probate

Most Florida residents have never been involved in probate proceedings. However, if your deceased loved one named you as the executor of his or her estate, then this responsibility could fall on your shoulders -- even if you don't know anything about the process.

Not to fear, if you don't know what probate is, you're about to understand the basics of what's involved in probating an estate.

1. Create an inventory of the estate assets and liabilities

When a Florida estate goes through the probate process, relatives and heirs will have the chance to come forward and make a claim on the estate. Similarly, debtors who are owed money by the decedent will have a chance to step forward and make their claims known.

The debtors will always receive their money first, and whatever is left over will go to the heirs. For this reason, it's vital to take an inventory of all the estate's assets and debts. Here is an example of the many things you'll need to gather in terms of debts.

  • Utility bills
  • Credit card bills
  • Mortgages
  • Personal loans
  • Medical bills
  • Funeral bills

Hopefully, the money in bank accounts and investment accounts and other assets -- that may need to be liquidated -- will be sufficient to satisfy the decedent's debts, so heirs can receive money in the end.

2. Open the probate estate

It's now time to open the probate estate with the appropriate probate court. Most executors enlist the help of an attorney to guide them through this process. Any beneficiaries in the will, and the executor in the will, need to review the probate opening papers and sign them before they are sent to the court. The lawyer will draft and send a long list of supporting documents to the court in this process.

3. Estimate the value of the decedent's estate

The next step could require appraisers and other valuation experts to assist in determining the total value of the estate. It's important to consider tax liabilities associated with any assets in this process.

4. Pay off remaining debts and estate expenses

During this stage, the executor will pay off all remaining bills using the estate assets. The executor will determine all the bills that are outstanding, and whether or not it's necessary to liquidate assets in order to pay the bills.

5. Paying taxes

Estate taxes and death taxes may be outstanding. At this stage, the executor will prepare and file the final IRS taxes and any other taxes for the descendant. The executor will also pay any other applicable taxes at this time.

6. Distribute remaining funds to beneficiaries

At this point, the executor will distribute the remaining assets to the heirs in accordance with the will. This last step is usually the most highly anticipated step of the process. Nevertheless, it always comes last -- much to the impatience of the beneficiaries.

Need help with your loved one's probate proceedings?

Navigating the probate process can be complicated. The larger the estate, and the more beneficiaries involved, the more complicated the process becomes. As such, executors and estate representatives will want to learn as much as they can about Florida probate law before they initiate the process.

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