Probate & Estate Administration
Guidance for your family.
Navigating unfamiliar legal processes can be overwhelming after the loss of a loved one.
Lauren A. Merritt, P.A. helps provide the guidance and service that allows you to focus on healing and supporting your family.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process of authenticating a last will and testament or identifying a deceased person's (decedent’s) heirs when there is no will and properly distributing the decedent's estate. During probate, the decedent’s assets are identified and gathered, his or her debts are paid, and the assets are distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries or heirs.
In general, the decedent’s assets are used to pay the following obligations, in order of priority:
The cost of the probate proceeding, including attorney’s fees;
The decedent’s funeral expenses;
The decedent’s outstanding debts.
The remainder of the decedent’s assets are then distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs.
Do I Need a Probate Administration?
You need a probate administration if the decedent had probate assets. Probate assets are generally any assets that were owned solely by the decedent, or that were owned by the decedent and one or more co-owners and lacked a provision for automatic succession of ownership at death. Probate is necessary to formally pass ownership of the decedent’s probate assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries and to complete the decedent’s financial affairs after his or her death. Administration of the decedent’s estate also protects the estate’s assets by ensuring that the decedent’s creditors are not entitled to payment unless they correctly follow certain procedures.
Examples of probate assets include, but are not limited to, the following:
A bank account or investment account that is solely in the decedent’s name;
Real property that is titled solely in the decedent's name or held as a tenant in common (including homestead property, although homestead property is generally exempt from creditors' claims);
Personal property, such as jewelry, artwork, automobiles, and boats;
An interest in a partnership, corporation, or limited liability company;
Any life insurance policy, annuity contract, or individual retirement account that lists either the decedent or the estate as the beneficiary; and
Non-probate assets that list a deceased person as the beneficiary.
Examples of non-probate assets include, but are not limited to, the following:
Property held in a revocable trust;
Property that is held in joint tenancy or as tenants by the entirety;
Bank or brokerage accounts held in joint tenancy or with payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) beneficiaries; and
Any life insurance policy, annuity contract, or individual retirement account that lists beneficiaries other than the decedent or the estate as the beneficiary.
What If There Is No Will?
A person who dies without a will dies “intestate,” and the decedent’s assets pass to the decedent’s heirs according to Florida or Alabama law instead of according to beneficiary designations a will. A probate administration is necessary to pay the decedent’s debts and to formally pass ownership of the decedent’s assets to the decedent’s heirs.