Florida Probate and Guardianship Law: An Overview
When a person dies, anyone holding the will must, under Florida law, file it with their local circuit court no later than 10 days
from the time the death was known. Then, one of several processes begins. Here are the two most common ones.
In Florida, if a probate estate is worth $75,000 or less, the executor may petition for Summary Administration. Beneficiaries will
receive notice, and, ultimately, a court order will release the property to the heirs.
Heirs will use the court order to prove themselves the rightful inheritors of funds, such as those held in investment and bank
The more complicated process of probate is necessary in most Florida cases for proper handling of debts and distribution of
To begin, the will's executor or another person will ask the circuit court for an appointment as the estate's personal
representative. Beneficiaries and heirs will receive notice.
The will is proven in court through witnesses. (A Florida will is self-proving if signed in front of witnesses who also signed a
statement with a notary public.) A court-issued Letter of Administration empowers the appointed personal representative to list
the assets, pay obligations and distribute remaining assets to heirs.
Assets That Go Through Probate
Investment portfolios and bank accounts under the decedent's name alone.
Annuity and life insurance policies and IRAs payable to the individual's estate upon death.
Non-homestead real estate, titled to the decedent alone, or to the decedent and tenants in common.
Assets That Avoid Probate
Property titled jointly.
Assets with a designated beneficiary or held in trust.
When the final accounting goes to court, interested parties can object. Many months can pass before a court order closes the
estate. Individuals may assert that a will or other important document is false, vague, or was procured through undue influence
or diminished capacity. Beneficiaries sometimes claim the personal representative is falling short of their fiduciary duties.
Estate litigation may be inevitable. A lawyer experienced with Florida wills and estates can represent the client in estate litigation
to guard the client's rights and the decedent's wishes.
Legal representation is helpful in assisting surviving spouses or heirs who need to demonstrate their rights. It is a great help
during the disposition of items held in safety deposit boxes or real property and in discovering missing assets.
Florida’s Guardianship Law
A guardian is a court-appointed surrogate who makes financial, and sometimes personal, decisions for a ward — a surviving
minor or disabled adult.
Florida's lawmakers made substantial changes in 2014–2016 (this change is ongoing) to:
Heighten protections for wards.
Require more information from the prospective guardian on fitness for the appointment.
Promote the ward's self-determination by limiting the scope and duration of guardianship.
Establish new safeguards to prevent abuse.
Ease family members' access to courts.
Expand confidentiality in incapacity proceedings, widening the categories of information accessible to the public record.
Create the Office of Public and Professional Guardians, an educational and regulatory body.
Legal assistance — including up-to-date knowledge of relevant laws — is vital in guardianships of young or incapacitated
survivors. Quality legal representation makes the ward's best interest paramount.