In our previous post, we started discussing how once the initial grief of losing a loved one subsides, it's imperative for surviving loved ones to take steps to ensure that all legal matters are addressed, particularly the managing of the deceased person's estate.
To that end, we started exploring how the probate process works here in Florida, discussing both the purpose of probate and what can be defined as probate assets. In today's post, we'll continue our discussion, exploring the parties involved in the process and what transpires during probate administration.
While circumstances can vary, the parties typically present during probate administration include the circuit court judge, the personal representative (i.e., the executor) of the estate and, in many cases, the attorney retained by the personal representative to guide them through the process.
It's important to understand that other parties may also be present such as health care providers or credit card companies in order to file the necessary claims relating to debts owed by the deceased. Furthermore, it's possible that the Internal Revenue Service may also be present to ensure that any outstanding tax issues are resolved.
The role played by the circuit court judge
The very first order of business for the presiding circuit court judge will be to determine whether the deceased had a valid will and, if so, whether it named someone to act as a personal representative.
If this is found to be the case, the judge will then determine whether the person named personal representative, who will more than likely be present, meets all of the qualifications set forth by state law.
A finding that the named person is indeed qualified to serve as the personal representative will result in the judge issuing something known as "Letters of Administration," which serve as valuable evidence of the personal representative's legal authority to handle matters relating to the deceased person's estate.
In the event the person did not leave a will, the judge will begin the process of verifying the identity of heirs eligible to receive some portion of the deceased's estate.
Finally, it must be noted that the judge will hold hearings as necessary to address any disputes or questions that arise during the probate process, and set forth directions in binding written orders.
We will continue this discussion in future posts, exploring the duties of a personal representative and Florida's distribution scheme in the event a person dies intestate.