In today's post, we'll once again spend some time examining the probate process in the Sunshine State in the hopes of clarifying what remains a mysterious legal proceeding and dispelling any longstanding myths.
To that end, today's post will explore how the probate process is about more than just ensuring that the assets of a decedent are distributed in accordance with state law.
Probate and estate creditors
It's important to understand that death does not magically erase all of a person's outstanding debts. Indeed, the probate process is just as much about ensuring that the decedent's outstanding debts are paid as it is about distributing their assets.
As such, one of the primary tasks of the personal representative, the person appointed by either the will or the court to administer the estate, is to work diligently to provide actual notice of the probate proceeding to all "known or reasonably ascertainable" creditors, such that they will have an opportunity -- typically three months after receiving said notice -- to file the necessary claims.
If the personal representative files an objection to a particular claim, the creditor must then pursue the matter via a separate lawsuit. It's important to understand, however, that the probate estate cannot be closed during the pendency of this independent legal matter.
Indeed, state law dictates that any outstanding debts of the decedent -- taxes, claims, other expenses -- must be paid in their full before any distributions can be made to beneficiaries.
To ensure this happens, the personal representative is required to file a report with the probate court outlining any claims filed by creditors. If the report shows that otherwise legitimate debts have not been paid or that the validity of any outstanding claim has yet to be adjudicated, the probate court will leave the estate open.
We'll continue exploring this important subject in future posts. In the meantime, if you have any questions about probate administration, please consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.