Can A Small Estate Avoid Probate?

Grandparents playing a tower game with grandchildren; estate planning and probate concept.

Can A Small Estate Avoid Probate?

When a Florida resident passes away, their estate must pass through a court process called probate in most cases. The procedure ensures that all of the decedent’s outstanding debt, including taxes, are paid in full and that the remaining assets go to the estate beneficiaries as the deceased instructed in their Last Will and Testament or as per the probate statutes when there is no valid will. The thought of the long and time-consuming probate process and court supervision is not something many are excited about, and it is common for estate planners to seek ways to avoid probate on behalf of their future executors. While many states have an option for small estates to bypass probate, that is not true in Florida. However, there are quicker and more accessible options than probate for those who qualify. Consider speaking with a Florida estate planning lawyer at Loughlin Law, P.A., by calling 561-677-8384 for questions and more information about how to avoid probate.

Is There a Small Estate Exception to Probate?

Unfortunately, there is no way for all smaller estates to skip probate altogether in Florida. However, with careful estate planning and for those meeting the requirements, there may be other options that may help to simplify the process of administering a decedent’s estate. According to the guidance of the Florida Bar, there are two primary forms of probate in the state and one without any court oversight for those who meet the requirements. The first is formal administration, the traditional type of probate that requires close court supervision and court appearances. The second is a quicker option for smaller estates meeting the guidelines, called summary administration. The last option available in limited circumstances is the Disposition of Personal Property Without Administration. Another essential thing to remember is only specific property that is solely owned must go through probate, including the following:

  • Investments and financial accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Vehicles, including boats and airplanes
  • Jewelry and other valuable personal property

An estate planning attorney at Loughlin Law, P.A. could answer specific questions during the consultation about how to avoid probate.

Probate Shortcuts for Small Estates in Florida

The state provides probate shortcuts for smaller estates that do not involve complicated matters. Some of these shortcuts include:

Summary Administration

Summary administration is less expensive and time-consuming than the usual method of formal probate and typically takes approximately two months to complete. According to Fla. Rev. Stat. § 735.201 (2023), estates with less than $75,000 assets, as well as the estates of individuals who have been dead for more than two years, may qualify for the Summary Administration process. There is a court-enforced wait time to allow creditors time to reach out and file claims against the estate for outstanding debt, if there is any. The maximum asset amount does not include homes-protected homestead real estate because creditors cannot file a judgment against that property. Steps to complete the process for summary administration of a decedent’s estate include:

  • The executor of the estate or an interested party files a Petition for Summary Administration with their local probate court.
  • When applicable, the estate’s beneficiaries and living spouses must sign, or serve the application with a copy of the filed petition when they cannot obtain signatures.
  • The individual handling the process must locate creditors with outstanding debt and pay the balances in full with estate assets or publish a notice to creditors for at least three months, whichever they prefer.
  • The probate will issue an order approving the request or allowing the petitioner to distribute the property and assets immediately.

Another option, available to fewer estates because fewer meet the requirements, is called Disposition Without Administration.

Disposition Without Administration

Disposition without administration is the quickest and most straightforward option for estates that qualify in Florida. There is no court oversight or requirement for attending formal proceedings. Qualifying estates include those consisting entirely of personal property exempt from creditor claims, such as motor vehicles, household appliances, and furniture, without any outstanding debt or creditor claims against the estate property. The executor of the estate or an interested party can apply for disposition without administration by petitioning the probate court with an application and supporting documentation, including:

  • Certified copy of the death certificate of the deceased
  • A copy of the Last Will and Testament, if any
  • Proof the deceased owned all property of value, such as free and clear titles for vehicles
  • Evidence of payment for the funeral, medical expenses, and other debt
  • When there is no will, proof of the beneficiary’s eligibility to receive the estate’s property

Once the court reviews the application and supporting documentation to determine eligibility and the satisfaction of the required paperwork, they will issue an authorization for disposition without administration.

More Estate Planning Tips To Avoid Probate

Estate planners can also use a variety of estate planning tools to ensure their property will not require probate before going to the intended beneficiaries. Some of the most effective tips include:

  • Married couples can ensure they own all property jointly with their spouse.
  • Estate planners can set up a Revocable, or a Living Trust, to transfer assets during life, or name the trust as a beneficiary on financial accounts.
  • Individuals can dispose of assets by gifting them to the heirs before death to enjoy other benefits, such as possible tax savings, and skip probate.
  • Using accounts, such as retirement savings with designated beneficiaries, that will pass directly to those named as beneficiaries when the account owner dies.

Creating a sound estate plan will offer many advantages for the planner and their beneficiaries once the former passes away.

Schedule a Meeting With a Knowledgeable Estate Planning Attorney

Most do not look forward to the probate process or dealing with the courts after the loss of a loved one. Fortunately, you can use many available estate planning tools to save your loved ones from time-consuming probate procedures and ongoing litigation. There are also options for smaller estates that allow for a simpler and less expensive probate process. Understanding all your options is the most effective way to take full advantage of the tools available to you and your beneficiaries. Learn more about how to avoid probate by speaking with a seasoned Florida estate planning lawyer at Loughlin Law, P.A., by calling 561-677-8384.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.