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Probate Administration in Florida

December 23

The Difference Between Formal and Summary Administration

Written by Thomas Upchurch

Probate is a legal process by which the court identifies and gathers a deceased person’s assets, pays their debts, and distributes their assets to beneficiaries. There are two main types of probate administration in Florida: formal administration and summary administration. The traditional form of probate in Florida is formal. This type of administration in Florida starts by filing a petition to open a probate estate and appointing a personal representative (also called an executor). Florida summary administration is a simplified form of probate. As opposed to the formal type of administration, the summary version does not require the appointment of a personal representative, and this helps expedite the process and make it less expensive and time-consuming. This option is only available when a decedent has been dead for over two years, or the total value of their probate assets is $75,000 or less. In this article, we examine the difference between these two types of administration in the state of Florida.

The Formal Administration Process in Florida

Most estate administrations in Florida use the formal probate process. Formal probate administration in Florida involves ongoing court supervision and ensures that a decedent’s wishes are fulfilled. The formal process in Florida consists of the following steps:

  • Preparation of documents
  • Execution of documents by beneficiaries
  • Appointment of a personal representative
  • Publication of notice to the decedent’s creditors
  • Filing of the estate’s inventory
  • Placement of all liquid assets into a restricted depository in the name of the estate
  • Determination of homestead, if applicable
  • Preparation of final tax returns, if applicable
  • Liquidation of property, if applicable
  • Payment to creditors
  • Distribution of assets to beneficiaries
  • Closing of the estate

Formal Probate Cost and Time Frame

Although every estate is different, the cost of the formal version of probate administration in Florida is typically over $500 and usually takes between 6 and 18 months to complete unless extraordinary circumstances are present.

Pros and Cons of Formal Probate

Like most things, formal probate has its positive and negative aspects. One of the primary pros of this process in Florida is the appointment of a personal representative. In Florida, an estate’s personal representative is the person who carries out the administration of the probate estate in the best interests of the beneficiaries and according to applicable law. In addition, when there is litigation related to the estate, the personal representative is the only person who has legal standing to defend the lawsuit. An estate’s personal representative is appointed via letters of administration, which are documents that grant a personal representative permission to access and manage an estate after someone dies. The probate court issues letters of administration, and most banks and financial institutions accept them as evidence to turn over a decedent’s assets.

Although the formal form of probate, unlike the summary version, involves the benefit of the appointment of a personal representative, the process also has some cons. For example, the formal process takes longer to conclude than the summary process. It typically takes between 6 and 18 months to conclude the formal process. In addition, formal probate is more expensive and more labor-intensive than the summary version of probate in Florida.

Appointment of a Personal Representative

If a person dies with a valid last will and testament, the individual named in the will to serve as a personal representative may generally serve in that role. However, determining who will serve as a personal representative when there is no will is a bit more complicated. When a person dies without a will, their surviving spouse is the first to serve as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. If the decedent died without a surviving spouse, then the heirs of the decedent’s estate vote to select a personal representative. Generally, the court appoints the person who receives a majority vote as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. However, if the heirs cannot decide who to nominate as the personal representative, then the heir who is nearest in kinship to the decedent may determine who will serve in this role if approved by the court. A person is disqualified from serving as a personal representative if they have been convicted of a felony, they are physically or mentally unable to perform their required duties, or are under 18 years old.

The Summary Administration Process in Florida

Summary probate is a simplified probate process available to estates that meet certain requirements. Specifically, this type of probate is only available when a deceased person has been dead for over two years or if the total value of their assets is $75,000 or less. This form of probate administration in Florida consists of the following steps:

  • Execution of documents by beneficiaries
  • Publication of notice to creditors if it has been under two years since the death of the decedent and if there is homestead property
  • Determination of homestead, if applicable
  • Distribution of funds to beneficiaries and creditors per court order

Summary Probate Costs and Time Frame

The summary process usually costs somewhere between $400 and $500. However, this amount can increase depending on the circumstances. And it takes approximately three to six months to complete this process unless extraordinary circumstances are present, such as a will contest. If such litigation is initiated, then the summary probate must be converted to a formal administration. Neither a formal nor summary probate can be closed while litigation is pending.

Pros and Cons of Summary Probate in Florida

Like the formal process, summary probate in Florida has its pros and cons. On the positive side, the summary process has a shorter time frame than the formal process. As noted above, the summary probate process usually takes between three and six months to conclude, while the formal probate process takes between six and eighteen months to finish up. In addition, summary probate tends to be less expensive and less complicated than the formal version of probate.

However, unlike the formal process, summary probate doesn’t involve the appointment of a personal representative. As discussed above, during formal probate, the personal representative is given broad authority to request all information needed regarding the decedent’s assets. Without such authority, obtaining this information can be difficult since institutions are legally required to withhold such information unless the requestor is the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. In addition, the summary version of probate does not involve the issuance of letters of administration, which are often useful when dealing with probate-related matters, such as requesting information from a bank or dealing with the Internal Revenue Service.

Contact an Estate Administration Attorney

If you need assistance with probate administration in Florida, Upchurch Law is here for you. At Upchurch Law, experienced Florida probate administration attorney Thomas Upchurch is here to assist you with all of your Florida probate and estate administration needs, including identifying estate assets, providing legal notice to creditors, working with creditors to pay off outstanding debts, and distributing assets to the correct beneficiaries. Upchurch Law services the Central Florida and North Florida areas, including Daytona Beach, Orlando, Deland, Jacksonville, Port Orange, Ormond Beach, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Palm Coast, Saint Augustine, and Titusville. Please, contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with our talented and experienced estate administration lawyer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is formal administration?

Formal probate is the most common form of probate in Florida. If an estate cannot qualify for summary probate or another alternative form of probate, it must go through the formal process. In addition, even if the formal probate process isn’t strictly required, it is often the best choice out of all the different types of Florida probate proceedings. In formal probate, the court closely supervises the collection and distribution of the decedent’s assets, which the appointed personal representative performs. The formal administration process can broadly be divided into the following three stages: opening of the estate, administration of the estate, and closing of the estate.

What is summary administration in Florida probate?

Summary probate is a shortened type of probate in Florida that does not require the appointment of a personal representative. The summary process in Florida usually requires less effort, time, and expense than the formal process. For summary probate to be available to an estate, one of two of the following conditions must be met:

  • The decedent must have been dead for over two years
  • The value of the estate subject to administration must not exceed $75,000

However, even if an estate meets one or both of the requirements above, the summary probate process is unavailable if the decedent had a last will and testament stating that formal probate should be used to administer their estate.