The Beginning of the Probate Process
The probate process begins by “opening an estate” in the proper county in
Florida. This is also known as venue. The venue is usually in the county
where the decedent lived. If the decedent did not live in Florida, but owned
property here, then the venue would be the county where the property was
located. An estate is opened by the filing of the Original Will, a certified
copy of the death certificate, an Oath of Personal Representative, and a
Petition for Administration with the Clerk of the Court. A person cannot
open an estate in Florida without an attorney.
The Will of the decedent does not have any legal effect until the Court signs
an Order Admitting the Will to probate. As expected the laws are designed
to make sure that only a valid Will can be probated.
As a general rule, the original Will, as opposed to a copy or an earlier executed Will can be admitted to probate. If only a copy of the last Will can be located, then other complex procedures have to be instituted before the Court will admit a Will to Probate.
A copy of the Petition for Administration is a pleading that the Court admit the Will to probate and to appoint the Personal Representative. A Petition for Administration or Notice of Administration must be “served” (mailed or faxed) to all beneficiaries listed in the Will. If the beneficiaries do not object the Court will sign an Order admitting the will to probate and appointing the Personal Representative. The Court signs a document titled “Letters of Administration” which gives authority to the Personal Representative to conduct the business of administering the Estate.
If an individual dies in Florida without having executed a Will or Trust, then the decedent’s probate assets will be distributed by a formula under the intestate succession statutes Fl. Stat. 732.102 and 732.103.
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