What are a Personal Representative’s Responsibilities in Florida?

When a Florida resident or someone who owned real estate in Florida dies, any probate assets they owned are subject to Chapters 731 through 735 of the Florida Probate Code. Probate assets are any assets owned in the decedent’s name alone at the time of death, without joint owners or beneficiaries. In most cases, such assets must go through probate administration in the Florida court system before they can be distributed to heirs.

What is a Personal Representative?

As part of the probate process, the court appoints someone to act as the Personal Representative for the estate (also sometimes referred to as an “executor” or “administrator.”) If the deceased person left a valid Will nominating someone as their Personal Representative, and if that person or organization is willing and able to serve, the judge will likely appoint them.

If there was no valid Will, the court will look to appoint one. An individual who is a Florida resident, or someone who is the decedent’s spouse, sibling, parent, child, or otherwise has a close family relationship with the deceased person – regardless of state of residence – may be appointed. However, in order to serve as Personal Representative, an individual must be physically and mentally able to perform their duties, must be at least 18 years old, and must not have a felony conviction on their record.

What Do Personal Representatives’ Duties Entail?

The Personal Representative, which can be an individual, a bank, or a trust company incorporated under Florida law, is legally responsible for following Florida law in administering the estate. Personal Representatives are required to act expeditiously and efficiently, and must act in the best interests of the estate at all times.

If you have been designated as a Personal Representative in a loved one’s Will, or if a probate judge has appointed you to serve in that capacity, here are the things you are responsible for:

What About Non-Probate Assets?

The Personal Representative’s responsibilities generally extend only to probate assets. Non-probate assets, those which the decedent owned with someone else as joint tenants or those for which one or more beneficiaries was named, are outside the scope of probate administration. However, such assets need to be identified and valued for purposes of determining the estate’s tax obligations.

Some non-probate assets may also be used to satisfy estate expenses and creditors’ claims, under Florida law. If the decedent had a revocable trust, the Personal Representative must file a “Notice of Trust” with the clerk of court, to make the decedent’s creditors aware of the trust and of their potential rights.

Note that if the deceased person named their “estate” as their beneficiary on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, or other assets, then the asset becomes a probate asset, subject to estate administration as described above.

Do I Need to Hire a Probate Attorney?

In most cases, yes. Florida probate law requires that Personal Representatives be represented by an attorney who is certified under the Florida Bar unless the Personal Representative is the sole interested party in the proceeding, or the Personal Representative is an attorney himself or herself.

Probate proceeding can be complex and unanticipated legal issues can – and often do – arise. Working with a skilled Florida probate attorney can help remove much of the stress that can come with serving as Personal Representative. A probate attorney typically represents the Personal Representative in his or her capacity and can assist with many of the steps identified above. Your attorney will also help you understand your responsibilities under the law.

Sometimes, a decedent’s Will names a particular attorney or law firm, specifying the decedent’s wish that such attorney or firm be used to administer the estate. However, the Personal Representative is not required to follow this direction and is free to use any licensed attorney.

To learn more and to schedule a meeting with an experienced probate attorney, contact us today!

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