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Making Sense of the Probate Process: Five Common Questions and Answers

Going through probate can be a time consuming and expensive process.  When you are planning out your estate, it is important to have a good understanding of what probate is, and how it will impact your loved ones after you’re gone.  This can help you to make smart decisions in your will that will help make the entire process as simple as possible. The following five common questions will help you to get a good introduction to this important process.

Q) How long does the probate process take?

A) The length of time for this process to be completed can vary greatly from case to case depending on a variety of factors.  For a typical small to medium sized estate where there is no contesting and a good will in place, it can normally be done within a year.  For complicated cases associated with a large estate, or when there is no will and probate is contested, it can drag on for years.  This is why it is so important to have everything properly taken care of prior to passing.

Q) How are debts handled in probate?

A) Settling debts is one of the most important parts in any probate process.  During probate, all creditors are notified of the passing, at which point they must submit a claim for any money that they are owed.  If the claim is valid, the money will be paid out of the estate. In Florida, your homestead property is exempt from creditor claims. This mean that if the only asset you leave behind to your loved ones is your home, creditors may end up not being paid. This could be a problem if a debt was held jointly with a son/daughter or loved one as they will be fully responsible for the debt.

Q) Is probate necessary for smaller estates?

A) In many cases, smaller estates won’t need to go through a full probate process.  There are simplified procedures that can be followed to streamline the process. To determine whether or not you qualify, it is best to speak with an estate planning attorney. In Florida, summary administrations require the estates to be less than $75,000.00 and in Miami-Dade County the probate division requires that there be no real property, such as a house or apartment, in the estate.

Q) How much does probate cost?

A) There are several costs associated with this process including paying for appraisals, executor’s fees, costs for a surety bond, court costs and more.  When all added up, this will typically end up costing between 3% and 7% of the total estate, assuming there are no complications.  For situations where the probate is contested, the costs can go up significantly.

Q) Is it possible to avoid probate?

A) In most cases it will be necessary for your estate to go through at least some probate.  It is possible, however, to dramatically reduce the complexity of the process, and even keep a lot of your assets out of probate altogether by setting up a good will or trust.

If you have any further questions about the probate process, or setting up a will, please contact us today!

Vanessa Vasquez de Lara, Esq. is the founder and owner of Vasquez de Lara Law Group, a law firm dedicated to assisting families with the legal issues affecting them, and their loved ones in family and probate court. Ms. Vasquez de Lara graduated cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 2002. She has been named to the 2015 Super Lawyers Rising Stars list and is an experienced family, probate, and guardianship litigator.

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