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Probate and Trust Administration

Your brother has recently died. You are named as the Personal Representative in his Last Will and Testament. What responsibilities do you have? Perhaps your mother has died without a Will. Who has the responsibility to administer her estate? What happens when your father with dementia can no longer administer his own revocable Trust? You are named as the successor Trustee. What are your responsibilities?

The administration of an estate can take several different forms, depending on whether there is a Will or not, whether there is a revocable or irrevocable Trust, and the size of the estate that needs to be administered. Probate is the court-supervised process that ensures the proper distribution of a decedent’s assets to the decedent’s beneficiaries under a Will or heirs under Florida law (if there is no Will). It includes the identification and inventory of all of the decedent’s property, payment of debts and taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries as directed by the decedent’s Will. If there is no Will, the property will be distributed according to Florida intestacy laws.

Any assets the decedent owns in his or her own name at death (that is, assets that are not held in joint names, are not held with a pay on death beneficiary or beneficiary designation, and are not held in trust) will be subject to probate administration, whether or not the decedent had a Will. Contrary to what you may have heard, probate in Florida is NOT an unduly lengthy or costly process. However, the process can be confusing to those who are experiencing it for the first time. It can also be complex if there are significant assets, hard to value assets, debts, or tax issues to be addressed, among other things.

Our probate and trust administration attorneys are skilled in guiding personal representatives, trustees, and relatives through the probate and trust administration process. We understand that we are dealing with difficult circumstances for families, and we strive to provide legal counsel with exceptional compassion and sensitivity.

For clients designated or appointed as a personal representative, our attorneys assist in the preparation and filing of all the necessary probate documents and guide the personal representative in fulfilling his or her fiduciary duties in the probate process. For clients who are beneficiaries of a will or potential heirs in an intestacy proceeding, we help ensure our clients’ interests are represented and protected in probate court.

Trust administration is different from probate, in that a trust is usually created to avoid probate court administration. However, while trust assets may bypass probate, there are still certain requirements that must be satisfied to properly administer a trust following the death or incapacity of the individual who set up the trust—otherwise, the trust may not fulfill its intended result. In addition, trust administration can involve legal challenges relating to numerous issues, such as creation of the trust documents, transfer of assets to the trust, and selection and suitability of the trustee.

In representing trustees, we provide guidance through the trust administration process, from advising clients on the full range of trustee responsibilities to helping to avoid disputes with beneficiaries or between beneficiaries. For beneficiaries of a trust, we can help ensure the trustee fulfills his or her duties and obligations as provided by the trust and protect beneficiary interests.

The Florida probate attorneys at FISHER & SAULS, P.A. in St. Petersburg are prepared to help you navigate the legalities of probate and trust administration. Contact us for assistance in properly administering a trust or estate or to supervise the conduct of others charged with the responsibility.

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