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Written by Thomas Upchurch
“Statute of limitations” is a term you may not typically associate with wills and estates, but the probate process involves a number of critical deadlines. Understanding the timeline is essential for administrators, beneficiaries, creditors, and potential heirs not listed in the will.
The first deadline associated with probate requires that the custodian of the will file it with the court within 10 days of being notified of the decedent’s death. This timeline is typically not strictly enforced, and filing within a reasonable time is generally acceptable. However, it is in the best interests of the personal representative and beneficiaries to file the will as soon as possible, as the personal representative has no power to act on behalf of the estate until the court accepts the will and issues letters of administration.
The personal representative’s obligations begin when the letters of administration are issued.
Following the issuance of the letters of administration, the personal representative must:
Serve a copy of the notice of administration on interested parties. There is no specific legal deadline for service of this notice, but the requirement that the notice be “promptly served” is usually interpreted to mean within 30 days of issuance of letters of administration. The parties to be served include the surviving spouse, beneficiaries of the estate, any person who may be entitled to exempt assets of the estate, and the trustee of any trust held by the decedent.
Publish and serve a notice to creditors. Like notice to interested parties, the creditors’ notice is not subject to a strict statutory deadline, but must be “promptly published.” In most cases, this is also interpreted to mean within 30 days of issuance of the letters of administration. The notice must be published in the appropriate newspaper for two consecutive weeks, and must be served directly on any creditors the personal representative knows of or can identify through a diligent search. Proof of publication must be filed with the court within 45 days of the first publication date.
File an inventory listing assets of the estate. Florida Probate Rules require that the personal representative file an inventory with the court within 60 days of issuance of letters of administration. The inventory must include a notice of beneficiary’s rights, and include an estimated fair market value for each item listed.
File a final accounting. The personal representative is directed to file a final accounting, including a distribution plan, within 12 months of the issuance of letters of administration. If the estate is required to file a federal tax return, the final accounting must be filed within 12 months of the due date of the return. However, this deadline can be extended by the court.
Creditors must file claims within three months of first publication of the notice to creditors, or within 30 days of service of direct notice, whichever is later.
Objections to the will must be filed within three months of service of the notice of administration. However, there are other challenges, such as a challenge to the jurisdiction of the probate court, which may have much shorter deadlines.
The surviving spouse must file for his or her elective share of the estate within six months following the service of the notice of administration, but in no case later than two years from the date of death.
The overview above covers the key dates and deadlines in the typical probate case, but it is important to be aware that there are many possible filing requirements, each with different deadlines, depending on the specifics of the estate. Some additional possibilities include:
Whether you are a personal representative managing an estate or a beneficiary unsure of how to pursue certain rights, a Florida estate attorney can be your best resource. Ensure that you don’t miss important deadlines or overlook key obligations or opportunities with the guidance of a seasoned professional.