While dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, enduring the arduous and time-consuming probate process may feel like an overwhelming responsibility. Through strategic estate planning and legal counsel, however, it is possible to reduce the high cost of probate and ensure that your loved ones receive their inheritance as efficiently as possible. Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all process and at Loughlin Law, P.A., our team of dedicated attorneys have the expertise necessary to guide you through the steps necessary to accomplish your long-term planning goals. For more information, consider contacting us at (561) 677-8384 today.
What Is Probate?
Probate refers to the formal legal process of estate administration by which debts are paid and assets distributed to beneficiaries after an individual’s death. During this process, an Executor or Administrator is appointed to manage the estate and distribute all assets according to the person’s Last Will and Testament. If the deceased individual did not have an estate plan in place, their property and assets will be handled according to §101-111 of the Florida Probate Code. Intestate succession is typically based on familial relationships, with spouses and children given priority before anyone else, regardless of the person’s wishes.
What Percentage Does Probate Take?
Between filing fees, appraisals, and other expenses, the cost of probate is often substantial. Firstly, the probate process includes the valuation and distribution of property under court supervision. All debts owed (including taxes) must be paid before distributing property and assets to beneficiaries. The estate cannot be distributed to heirs until these debts have been addressed, so it is important to account for these expenses when calculating the overall cost of probate.
To begin the probate process, if the decedent has left a will, then the person named as executor is responsible for petitioning the probate court for letters of testamentary to administer the estate. This initial step will require the payment of court fees, which can cost approximately $300 to $400, depending on the county.
Compensation for Executors
Moreover, executors can collect compensation for their work. In Florida Statute 733.617, it is established that the executor can collect “reasonable” compensation calculated on a graduated percentage. This can range from 1.5% to 3% depending on the value of the estate and the nature of the work completed by the executor.
Executors who do not themselves have experience with probate law commonly hire attorneys to guide them through the probate process. In most cases an attorney who was not responsible for drafting the will is considered entitled to “reasonable compensation,” although state law in Florida does not specify a mandatory minimum fee. In Section 733.6171(3) of the Florida Statutes, the following structure has been set forth as a guideline for reasonable attorney fees:
- $1,500 for estates valued at less than $40,000
- $2,250 for estates valued between $40,000 and $70,000
- $3,000 for estates valued between $70,000 and $100,000
- 3% of the estate’s value between $100,000 and $900,000
- 2.5% of the estate’s value between $1 million and $3 million
- 2% of the estate’s value between $3 million and $5 million
- 1.5% of the estate’s value between $5 million and $10 million
- 1% of the estate’s value if over $10 million
According to Title XLII Ch. 735 § 201 of the Florida Statutes, there is a simplified summary probate process for estates valued at less than $75,000. For all other larger estates, however, a formal probate proceeding must be conducted. While very small estates can go through this simplified process and may not require legal assistance, estates of any size may benefit from the help of an experienced attorney. A Florida estate planning attorney can help to ensure that the process proceeds smoothly, based on your loved one’s wishes.
What Assets Are Exempt From Probate?
Due to the high cost of probate, estate planning attorneys often receive questions from current and prospective clients about whether specific assets are exempt from the process. Some assets that do not generally require probate include:
- Property that is jointly owned with rights of survivorship
- Payable-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts
- Life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, and retirement accounts that have listed beneficiaries
- Assets that are held in a living trust
There are specific legal tools that can be used to avoid probate, such as a living trust. Assets held in a living trust can be distributed at any time, even immediately upon death. At Loughlin Law, P.A., we work with individuals to create a tailored estate plan that reduces probate costs through the use of strategic tools like the living trust.
How Long Does Probate Take?
The timeline for probate varies depending on the complexity and size of the estate. Generally, you can expect the probate process to take at least six months. For more complex cases, the process can last several years. This is particularly true if one or more parties involved contests the will. The longer the process takes, the greater the cost of probate. Awareness of this truism leads many families to seek legal counsel to avoid costly disputes and ensure that the process is as peaceful and efficient as possible.
How Long Do You Have To File for Probate After Death?
In Florida, you are legally required to file the will with the court within 10 days of the person’s death. After the will has been filed, it is possible to submit the petition to begin the probate process. Once the process has started, the estate executor must publish a notice to all creditors. Estate executors must also provide evidence of the estate holder’s death to all creditors within three months of the notice.
How Can an Estate Planning Attorney Help To Reduce the Cost of Probate?
The probate process in Florida is complex and intricate, requiring the family and friends of a deceased person to closely adhere to the rules and regulations of the state at every step of the process. At Loughlin Law, P.A., we work with individuals to craft an estate plan that mitigates the cost of probate and optimizes the value of their assets. Through our strategic planning, we can ensure that your loved ones receive their inheritance as quickly and easily as possible. To learn more about how we can help, consider contacting our office at (561) 677-8384 today.