Probate can be a timely and costly legal process that verifies the will of a deceased person and manages the transfer of their estate assets. According to the Florida Bar Association, this process can take between six months and two years. Here’s what you need to know to avoid the probate process in Florida.
If you want to avoid the probate process, a financial advisor can help you create an estate plan to protect your assets.
How Probate Works in Florida
The probate process begins with the validation of a deceased person’s will. The court then pays off pending debts and taxes, and distributes the remaining assets following the instructions in the will.
If the deceased does not have a will, or it is deemed by the court as invalid, assets get distributed according to state law. This could result in distant relatives inheriting part of your estate or even the state of Florida acquiring your assets, which could contradict your wishes.
Assets like bank accounts are generally subject to the probate process. In Florida, your estate could qualify for summary administration, which can speed up the probate process, if it is worth less than $75,000 in non-exempt assets, including vacation homes and cars, among other properties.
One note: In cases when the decedent has passed in over two years, there is no value limit on the assets that can be distributed via summary administration.
Can a Will Avoid Probate in Florida?
As a legal document, a will can specify how your assets will get distributed upon your death. For example, a will can appoint a guardian for minor children and designate an executor to carry out your wishes. But it will not help your estate avoid probate.
The court will use your will as a roadmap, which can simplify the process. But your heirs will still need to go through probate to make the instructions in your will legal.
4 Common Ways to Avoid Probate in Florida
- Designate a beneficiary. When you name a beneficiary on an account, you are stating who will inherit that asset after you die. And accounts that transfer upon death are not considered part of the probate estate in Florida. These beneficiary accounts include both checking and savings, as well as 401(k) plans and IRAs.
- Create a living trust. This legal document is used to manage and distribute your estate upon death. Assets placed in a living trust can circumvent probate altogether, therefore ensuring that your beneficiaries get their inheritance without delay.
- Own property as a joint tenant with right of survivorship. Being a joint tenant gives you equal ownership rights to an asset. So when one of the joint tenants dies, the other can take over the whole asset without probate.
- Use a ladybird deed. This deed allows you to transfer property to future beneficiaries like your children, while still retaining control of it for the rest of your life. The property will transfer automatically to your beneficiaries and therefore avoid probate.
Probate can be stressful and time-consuming for your beneficiaries, delaying asset distribution and making your estate public once it gets documented as a court record. You can simplify the process with a will, and take additional estate planning steps to avoid probate altogether.
Tips for Estate Planning
- A financial advisor can help protect assets from probate. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- Estate plans can include end-of-life arrangements like advance directives that can empower you to retain control over your health care decisions, if you become incapacitated.
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