Summary Administration for Probate in Florida. There is no such thing as a truly simple approach to probate. This process is always rife with complications, no matter the scope of the deceased individual’s estate. That being said, some processes can streamline key parts of this process, making it far easier to navigate.
In Florida, one especially compelling option promises to simplify probate for the few estates that are eligible: summary administration. This solution isn’t available to all Florida estates, but it can be an excellent option for those who are eligible. Unfortunately, it is highly misunderstood, to the point that eligible estates often do not undergo this version of the probate process.
To clarify key misconceptions about summary administration in Florida, we’ve highlighted all the essentials below: how this process works, when it’s ideal, and what it takes to successfully administer an estate under this approach.
When Is Summary Administration Available?
In Florida, summary administration holds strict limitations, as outlined in Section 735.201 of the Florida Statutes:
Summary administration may be had in the administration of either a resident or nonresident decedent’s estate, when it appears:
(1) In a testate estate, that the decedent’s will does not direct administration as required by chapter 733.
(2) That the value of the entire estate subject to administration in this state, less the value of property exempt from the claims of creditors, does not exceed $75,000 or that the decedent has been dead for more than 2 years.
These can be difficult for ordinary residents to understand, but essentially boil down to just three key considerations:
What Is the Value of the Estate?
Estates with less than $75,000 in assets not including exempt property are usually eligible for summary administration. Examples of exempt property include:
- The homestead property of the deceased individual
- Household appliances or furniture with a value of up to $20,000.
- Two motor vehicles in the deceased person’s name
When Did the Estate Holder Pass Away?
The date of death is often even more influential than the value of the estate. If the decedent died over two years ago, summary administration should be available — even for estates that exceed the aforementioned $75,000 threshold.
What Does the Decedent’s Will Indicate?
On occasion, an estate may appear to be a shoo-in for summary administration. These could ultimately be rendered ineligible based on the deceased individual’s will. If the will is valid and clearly designates that probate should be handled formally — as outlined in Chapter 733 of the Florida Statutes — then summary administration will not be possible.
What Are the Advantages of Pursuing Summary Administration?
Summary administration is largely thought of as a streamlined alternative to ‘typical’ probate. Its simplified mechanisms make it appealing for many situations, although there are cases in which a more comprehensive approach may actually prove preferable. It’s important to thoroughly examine both the potential benefits and challenges before proceeding. Key advantages to keep in mind include:
In Florida, formal probate administration typically takes over six months, although this can easily extend even further for complex estates. Summary administration considerably shortens this timeline. In most situations, it’s possible to close the process within just one or two short months. As a result, loved ones in mourning can quickly conclude an emotional process and move forward with their lives.
No Need for a Personal Representative
Typically, the Florida probate process begins with the designation of a personal representative. In many other states, this important individual is referred to as the estate’s executor. Appointed by the court, this person is charged with overseeing the entirety of the probate process. This responsibility often is given to surviving spouses or children.
While many personal representatives do an excellent job of administering their loved ones’ estates, there are definitely exceptions. As such, a significant share of probate disputes center around the personal representative’s decisions or actions.
With summary administration, the personal representative is replaced by a petitioner. This individual does not hold nearly as much oversight as the personal representative, so this is often an easier role to carry out.
Because the summary administration process doesn’t take nearly as long as formal administration, it’s nearly always easy to keep the cost manageable. Filing fees can be especially reasonable by comparison, although all types of probate tend to be more expensive than beneficiaries prefer. Legal fees may be limited simply because these estates can be administered with less time and effort on the lawyer’s end.
When Is Summary Administration Best Avoided?
Those who pursue formal administration in lieu of the summary alternative typically do so because they’re not eligible for an expedited approach. Still, there are select cases in which the estate may be eligible for summary administration, but formal probate turns out to be a far better option.
Problems are most likely to arise if the deceased person had a lot of creditors. In such cases, summary administration can be far more complex than anticipated. This is typically not a concern if the decedent passed away over two years ago, as time will have settled all issues with creditors.
If the decedent passed away more recently, creditor claims must be handled promptly before summary administration is available. This means completing a diligent search for known or potential creditors — and if the necessary assets are available, handling payment.
In other cases, complications related to Florida’s homestead laws may arise. Technically speaking, the decedent’s homestead will have passed on to any designated heirs — but this doesn’t mean that clear title exists. As such, it may be necessary to initiate separate proceedings for establishing homestead status. This sometimes has a negative impact on the timing of the summary administration, especially when judges enforce waiting periods.
Summary Administration Vs Formal Probate: Proceed With Caution When Settling Florida Estates
There is no one ideal approach to probate in Florida. A lot depends on the unique realities of the estate in question. While some estates will clearly benefit from the built-in simplicity of summary administration, a formal approach may be preferable in other situations.
When in doubt, it’s best to seek insight from a Florida probate attorney who understands how this process works and where pitfalls may exist. Only then is it possible to proceed with a solid probate strategy. A little insight can make a world of difference, so don’t hesitate to get a respected lawyer in your corner.