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Representation of Heirs

In Florida, the personal representative appointed to administer an estate is responsible for managing the estate and distributing assets to the heirs. In an ideal situation, the personal representative fulfills his or her duties honestly, competently and efficiently, and little is required of the heirs. However, under certain circumstances, an heir may need to take action to protect his or her inheritance.

Who is an Heir in Florida?

Under Florida law, the word “heir” technically applies to those who inherit under intestate succession. Where the decedent did not leave a will, state statutes set forth the people who are “heirs at law,” and thus entitled to a share of the intestate estate. As a practical matter, however, the word “heir” is also used to describe beneficiaries under a will. Both heirs and beneficiaries are entitled to receive property from the estate, either under the terms of the decedent’s will or according to the statutory hierarchy applied when someone dies without a will.

Property Passes to Heirs through the Estate

Whether the deceased left a will or assets are passing through an intestate estate, the process is similar. In both situations, a personal representative is appointed to manage the estate and make distributions to those entitled to receive a share of the estate.

Many people are under the impression that property is simply distributed to heirs and beneficiaries shortly after their loved one passes away. However, probate is an involved process that can take from several months to more than a year. During that time, the personal representative has many responsibilities, such as:

  • Publishing a notice to creditors and ensuring that all debts are paid
  • Inventorying and assessing the value of all estate assets
  • Accounting for assets in the estate and expenditures of the estate
  • Filing estate taxes
  • Liquidating assets of the estate to pay creditors and make distributions
  • Distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries

Hiring an Attorney to Represent You as an Heir or Beneficiary

Generally, the personal representative of an estate will be represented by a probate attorney. While this attorney will guide the personal representative through the probate process and help to ensure that the estate is managed responsibly, it is important to note that this lawyer does not represent the heirs. His or her responsibility is to the personal representative. Therefore, an heir’s interests are not necessarily fully protected.

While most personal representatives handle estate affairs responsibly, a dishonest or incompetent personal representative can cost an heir his or her inheritance.
Some circumstances under which an heir might want to retain separate counsel include:

  • When property seems to be missing from the estate accounting
  • When the personal representative fails or refuses to provide required accountings
  • When the personal representative deviates from the terms of the will (for example, distributing property specifically devised to one heir to someone else)
  • When the heir has reason to believe the personal representative is misappropriating estate assets
  • When the personal representative is simply not acting to move the estate administration forward

Of course, these are just common examples. If you are in any way uncertain about your rights as an heir or the actions of the personal representative, a consultation with an experienced probate lawyer can help you determine the best course of action.

Protect Your Rights as an Heir

If you believe the personal representative is mishandling estate assets or otherwise failing to protect your interests, your next step should be to talk to a knowledgeable estate attorney. Just fill out the form at the bottom of this page or call 386-320-6169 to schedule a consultation.