The estate attorneys at Statewide Probate®, a division of the Pensacola law firm of McDonald Fleming Moorhead, are often asked questions about how much Florida probate administration costs and how long it takes.
Below, we have provided you with answers to some of the questions our estate attorneys have been asked by our probate administration clients.
Obviously there will not be any inheritance to the heirs or beneficiaries, who receive assets only if all debts are paid. Florida law has a stated priority of claims, in which some claims (such as funeral expenses and final medical bills) come ahead of others. Most important in this day of “living trusts,” Florida law allows the creditors to reach assets of the deceased which were placed in certain types of trusts, and requires those trustees to use trust assets if necessary for estate expenses and claims. Agreeing to serve as personal representative does not obligate one for the debts of the deceased; they are obligations of the estate, to the extent there are assets to pay them, but becoming an executor does not make those debts your own.
Unless there are complications or disputes, most nontaxable estates take between six and ten months for formal administration and four to five weeks for a summary administration. Taxable estates cannot close until the IRS signs off on the Estate Tax Return 706, which has to be filed within nine months after the date of death and often takes that long to prepare. Taxable estates are doing well to close in two years. However, in many taxable estates the work is primarily done in the first nine months, and the rest of the time is spent mainly waiting for IRS review and approval to close the estate. For the IRS publication on estate tax, review this IRS website.
Florida law permits probate lawyers to charge fees based upon a percentage of the estate, but in many cases THAT RESULTS IN TOO HIGH A FEE. Many lawyers in Florida charge either a flat fee or "by the hour". Estates vary from very simple to extremely complicated, based on the type of assets owned, the number of beneficiaries, and special conditions in the will. If the decedent owned real property in ten different states, you can be sure the probate costs will be a lot higher than if he or she just owned "liquid" funds in financial institutions. It is not the amount of the estate but the type of assets and complexity of the will that should determine the legal fees in probate cases.
After reading the answers to these and our other frequently asked probate administration questions, you may still feel unclear or perhaps you found yourself with new estate-related questions. To help you determine if Statewide Probate can best serve your probate needs, our Florida estate attorneys offer a free 20-minute probate consultation. To take advantage of this free service, contact Statewide Probate today. From our law office in Northwest Florida, we are able to handle probate administration for clients in Pensacola, Miami, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Orlando, and throughout the state.