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Here are a few tips for someone who finds themself suddenly faced with the overwhelming task of handling a probate estate in Florida:
1) Have their mail forwarded to your house. You should go through each piece of mail to assist you in identifying all of the creditors and assets of the Florida Estate. Keep statements to give to your attorney once you start the probate process. You should go through all of your loved one’s records as well to be sure you have identified all of the important details of the estate (including their checkbook register for the past year). Also, make sure before you close any accounts (if you can) that nothing important is being automatically withdrawn from that account.
2) Check the insurance coverage if there is a home. Find the homeowners policy and check to be sure it is not up for renewal soon. If your loved one’s home is paid off, meaning that you don’t have a mortgage company to pay the taxes and insurance for you, the heirs or estate will have to pay those when the time comes. With no mortgage, you cannot even assume there is home insurance, as there is no legal requirement to have the house insured in Florida. To further complicate matters, many insurers won’t continue to insure a home once they learn it is vacant, or won’t renew the policy, so consider whether to have someone trustworthy occupy the house if needed to avoid losing coverage.
3) Don’t pay creditors right away. Even a few small bills can add up quickly, and if your family member or friend passed away in a hospital, it could be months until you know the total amount of bills that the Florida Estate owes. But remember that as a general rule, you are not personally responsible for those bills -- the Estate is responsible. So don’t let a nasty debt collector pressure you into paying creditors of an estate out of your own pocket. Seek the advice of a Florida probate lawyer before you pay any creditors.
For more possible “first steps,” download our free Executor’s checklist on this site.