Paul E. Riffel, Attorney at Law
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Tampa Probate Attorney

Any part of an estate that passes to beneficiaries under either a will or the Florida rules of intestacy must go through probate. In the probate process, a personal representative ensures that taxes and creditors are paid and that the appropriate beneficiaries receive their distributions. Probating an estate is a complicated process, so call our experienced Tampa probate attorney today.

When an individual passes away, they will often leave behind property, assets, and debts. Probate is the legal process of settling an estate and can occur whether or not the individual had drafted a will. Probate can be a complicated process and many legal issues may arise before an estate can be closed. Whether you are the executor of a will, a beneficiary, or a potential heir, it is important to have the assistance of an experienced Tampa probate attorney throughout the probate process.

Probate Process In Florida

Following a death, a named executor or anyone else who possesses a will has ten days to file it with the probate court. If the individual died with no known will, the court will use the probate process to distribute the estate in line with Florida intestacy laws. Anyone who believes they may be a rightful heir to the estate should come forward to claim their share of the property and assets.

If there is a will and the court deems that probate will be necessary, the first step is to determine whether or not the submitted will is valid–meaning that it has been executed properly, contains the necessary substantive provisions, and meets other requirements under Florida wills law. Even if the court finds the will to be valid, others may bring challenges–called will contests–if they believe that certain provisions of the will should not be enforced. Will contests can arise for several reasons, can delay probate significantly, and can result in litigation, however, they may be important for rightful beneficiaries to receive what they deserve.

If a will is ultimately found to be enforceable, the probate court will give the executor permission to serve as personal representative of the estate. They will then have many responsibilities, including:

  • Inventory property and assets;
  • Manage the property and assets throughout the probate process;
  • Pay all tax liability and debts;
  • Defend the estate to wrongful creditor claims;
  • Locate named beneficiaries;
  • Distribute the property and assets in accordance with the will; and
  • Close the estate.

These responsibilities can be overwhelming and a qualified probate attorney can help ensure that the personal representative successfully completes all of their duties.

Other Options For Estate Administration

Not all property of an estate must be distributed through formal probate, including:

  • Property held in trust;
  • Assets from accounts or policies with a pre-designated beneficiary (such as life insurance or retirement accounts); and
  • Property owned in joint tenancy.

Additionally, certain estates may qualify for disposition without probate administration or summary administration, which are both shortcuts to avoid formal probate. A probate lawyer in Tampa can identify whether a particular estate or particular property qualifies for these alternatives to save time and resources.

Representation of Executors and Administrators

A personal representative has the responsibility to administer a decedent’s estate. If the decedent specifically named a personal representative in his or her valid will, the representative is known as an executor. But if the decedent either left no valid will or failed to name a representative, a representative will be appointed by the probate court and will be known as the administrator.

The executor or administrator owes fiduciary duties, associated with settling the estate, to the decedent’s creditors and beneficiaries. These fiduciary duties can be very involved, and if they are not properly carried out, the personal representative may be liable. If you have been appointed the personal representative of an estate, a Tampa probate attorney experienced in the probate process can help you make sure you carry out your duties correctly and, if someone accuses you of administering the estate improperly, can provide you with legal representation.

Transferring Estate Assets

After ensuring that all taxes and creditors are paid, a person representative’s main responsibility is to distribute the estate’s assets among the beneficiaries or heirs. The representative must ensure that the right assets are distributed to the right beneficiaries and ensure that the beneficiaries receive clean title. To give clean title, he or she must make sure that all taxes and all creditors are paid, so that no person or entity has any claim on any of the decedent’s estate. The representative may also have to retitle some assets, such as a house or car, in a beneficiary’s name.

Once the personal representative has administered the estate correctly, complying with all the applicable requirements, the beneficiaries of the estate receive their distributions free from any future claims. If you are the personal representative of an estate, an attorney can help you make sure that all debts and taxes are paid, all assets are distributed to the right people, and the beneficiaries get clean title. Contact our Tampa estate assets attorney today.

Federal Estate Tax

Florida does not assess an estate tax, but some Florida residents will be required to pay the federal estate tax. For 2015, the first $5.43 million of an estate is exempt from estate taxation, but any amount over that is taxed at 40 percent. If a decedent’s estate exceeds $5.43 million, or if a surviving spouse wishes to take advantage of the portability of the decedent’s exemption amount, the personal representative must file a federal estate tax return. The federal estate tax return is a complex form, and an attorney’s help is generally necessary to prepare and review the return.

The Florida probate process is complex, and incorrectly administering an estate can have serious consequences for its beneficiaries. If you have the responsibility of administering an estate, an experienced attorney can be an invaluable help. Please contact Tampa probate attorney Paul Riffel today for a free initial consultation.

Contact A Tampa Probate Attorney To Discuss Your Case Today

As an experienced Tampa probate attorney, Paul E. Riffel has helped many personal representatives and family members navigate the complicated and confusing probate process in and around the Tampa area. If you need assistance or have any questions regarding the probate process in Hillsborough County, please call our law office at 813-265-1185 for help today.

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Paul E. Riffel, Attorney at Law

Paul Riffel Law is located in Tampa FL and serves clients in and around Brandon, Tampa, Valrico, Odessa, Thonotosassa, Gibsonton, Sydney, Dover, Land O Lakes, Oldsmar, Apollo Beach, Lithia, Safety Harbor, Trilby, Plant City, Durant, Holiday, Hillsborough County and Pasco County.

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