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How Do I Open a Palm Beach Estate?: 5 tips to open probate

Uncategorized Nov 2, 2013

Do you need help with a Florida estate?

Maybe you live in Ohio, and your uncle Mo died in Boynton Beach, Florida. You get a call from someone who has your uncle’s will, which names you executor (or what we call in Florida: personal representative of the estate). Oh…..and the will gives you half of your uncle’s estate and the other half to your brother who hates you. What do you do?

  1. File the will with the clerk. If you are holding the original Florida will, Florida law refers to you as the “custodian” of the will. You are required to file it within 10 days of death. Where do you file the will? Any courthouse will do. For Palm Beach County, Florida, there are four courthouses, three of which have probate courts: Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach and Delray Beach. You can file at any one by finding the probate clerk’s office. You will get a filing number, which is also referred to as a “will only” number. After filing the will, the original will is now out of your possession and in the hands of the probate clerk. They will give a copy to you, with the will only number stamped on it. Go to www.mypalmbeachclerk.com for more information on courthouses and the clerk’s office.  Once the clerk enters the will into  the system, you, and everyone else for that matter, will be able to see online that you filed the will, and what the will only number is.  The clerk’s website will take you there.
  2. Do you need to open probate? Determine if you need to open an estate with the courts, also called “opening a probate.” Probate, short for “probate administration” refers to the orderly administration of a deceased person’s affairs. Think of it like running a corporation. The corporation is the dead person’s affairs: your uncle Mo had assets, like a Florida homestead or residence, a checking account, maybe an IRA or brokerage account, an automobile and personal property. Uncle Mo also had liabilities or obligations such a mortgage payment, credit card bills, home owner association fees, a water bill, real estate taxes, and don’t forget the IRS. You will have to pay Uncle Mo’s final or last income tax bill by filing a final 1040. Probate is marshaling all of Uncle Mo’s “stuff”, paying off his just (and legitimate) debts and then distributing the “stuff” to his beneficiaries named in the will. Florida courts have a process for smaller estates.  And your Uncle Mo may have had no creditors or only few that are easy to deal with and pay.  He may also have had a revocable trust which the will leaves all his property to.   Consider all these issues when determining whether you need to open probate in Palm Beach or not.
  3. File the death certificate. Let’s assume that you need to open a probate for Uncle Mo. File the death certificate with the court. They don’t take long to get in Palm Beach County. Go to www.pbchd.com to order or to find out locations for the Palm Beach Health Department. One location is downtown West Palm Beach, a few blocks from the main courthouse. We walk down there regularly from our office to get death certificates: it’s fast and easy.
  4. Gather information. Assuming that you need to open probate, then start to gather information. Who was the dead person’s children, spouse or descendants? Social Security Number? You’ll need that for the “petition for administration” which is the document which you file with the court to start the probate process. One question you will need asked is who gets a copy of this? And who is entitled to a copy of the will? If Uncle Mo was rich, would you be surprised if long lost relatives come out of the woodwork and show an interest in his estate in Florida? Keep gathering information. Any safe deposit boxes? Who were Uncle Mo’s known creditors (did he owe any money to anyone?) Did anyone owe him money? Check the mail ! You’ll see his financial statements or monthly statements or maybe quarterly statements of his assets and you’ll see his bills. They will tell you a lot about what Uncle Mo had and who you will have to deal with.
  5. File the Petition for Administration and Open Probate. Go to the clerk’s office, pay the filing fee of $401, and drop off the death certificate and the signed petition for administration and you are on your way to opening probate in Palm Beach County. For a list of costs associated with a Florida resident’s estate, go to: http://www.mypalmbeachclerk.com/fees/probate.aspx. Truth be told, you need a Florida probate lawyer to do most of this stuff for you.  And there are more things to do than I’ve briefly outlined here.  You will certainly need someone to guide you through the probate process and let you know about deadlines and options. If your brother hates you, you may need strategies on how to deal with him or others.  Should you pay that creditor or fight? Your brother wants an advance of his inheritance….can you do that ? How do you do that? What do you do when your pain in the neck brother starts asking a hundred questions a day? Can you get paid for being a personal representative or executor of a Florida estate? The good news is that probate judges in Palm Beach County are smart and experienced to handle the probate of your Uncle Mo’s estate and there are many good probate lawyers in Palm Beach with lots of experience.