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WHO SHUT DOWN THE FLORIDA ESTATE?: can you re-open a Florida probate once it’s been administratively closed?

Uncategorized Dec 18, 2013

Is your Florida probate shutdown? Still waiting for your inheritance?

Has a Florida estate, of which you are a beneficiary, been closed and you don’t know why?

The Florida probate process, or what may be referred to as the estate administration process, may be “administratively closed” if there is no action estate. What does this all mean?

Throughout Florida, and particularly in Palm Beach County, and Broward County, probate courts, and Florida probate judges, will routinely close a Florida estate if there is nothing going on. This is done, in part, to reduce, or alleviate, the massive caseload which confronts probate courts and the county clerk’s office. This may come as a complete surprise to beneficiaries, family members, and heirs. This may come as a complete surprise to beneficiaries, heirs, and family members. Yes, it is possible that the Palm Beach County probate, or the Broward County probate, come to a screeching halt.

If the Florida personal representative is not taking any action with the Florida estate, and if no “interested persons” are taking any action regarding the estate, the estate may be closed. If there is no legal activity in the court records, or on the probate “docket”, the probate judge may issue an order to “show cause.”  And interested person, for Florida probate purposes, is anybody who has a financial or other interest in the estate of a deceased Florida resident. This includes beneficiaries, but also those people who may be owed money from the deceased Florida citizen.

An order to show cause is not as bad as it sounds. In essence, the probate court is asking you to simply demonstrate why the, for example, Palm Beach County probate, or estate, should not be closed. Any time that a court issues an order, in a probate matter, the personal representative must comply with the probate court’s order. When a probate judge issues an order, he or she is instructing us to do something, which is sometimes referred to as the “command.” In this example, the “command” from the probate court judge is to simply demonstrate to the court why you need to keep the estate open.

The personal representative of the Florida estate should file a response, telling the probate court whether the estate needs to remain open or whether it may be closed. If the estate needs to remain open, the personal representative should simply tell the court, in a court filed writing, why the estate needs to stay open and what needs to be done. So, for example, the Florida personal representative may explain why the Broward County probate needs to continue, by informing the probate court that there are creditors to be paid, or more time is needed to complete the final federal income tax return for the Florida resident who died, or because more time is required to gather assets of the deceased Florida resident and distribute them to beneficiaries.

If the Florida personal representative, or an interested person in the Florida probate, can demonstrate why the estate should remain open, the court will take action and permit the estate to be reopened. However, if the personal representative does not respond to the order to show cause, the estate will be administratively closed. There will be some entry on the probate court docket, or they are will be some document in the court file, which demonstrates that the court, and the county clerk, closed this estate.

So what if you are an heir, or a beneficiary, and you haven’t received your inheritance?

Any interested person in the Florida probate, or the Florida estate, may file a petition to reopen the estate. Simply file a document with the court, after you pay the filing fee with the clerk, and explain why the estate should be reopened. When an estate is administratively closed, the probate court typically withdraws, revokes, or rescinds, the “letters of administration” which granted authority to the personal representative to administer the estate. The court will most likely, in addition to revoking letters of administration,  withdraw any order appointing the personal representative. So, if you are reopening a Florida estate which has been administratively closed, in your petition to reopen, you need to address the issue of who will serve as personal representative. You may wish to have someone particular to serve as personal representative, and if that’s the case, you need to state this when you attempt to reopen the estate. Once the court grants your petition to reopen the estate, and once the court appoints a personal representative to administer the Florida estate, the Florida probate process may then continue.

One important note about estates which are administratively closed. Just because an estate has been “closed” by the probate court, does not mean that the personal representative who previously served is “discharged” or relieved of liability. A personal representative of a Florida estate is not relieved of liability from the probate unless a court says so: by issuing an order of “discharge” which states that the personal representative served admirably, and that what he or she did as personal representative was proper.

What is this mean? If you previously served as personal representative of the Florida estate which is been close administratively, you may wish to seek your discharge, so that you are relieved of potential liability. This is done by filing a petition with the court asking to be relieved of liability. Just because an estate has been administratively closed by a probate court doesn’t mean that a personal representative is off the hook, and it doesn’t mean that there is nothing more to do in the Florida probate process.