Palm Beach County Probate
Palm Beach County Probate and Wills in Florida
What do we mean by “Palm Beach County probate”?
Palm Beach County probate refers to a Florida estate proceeding of somebody who died a resident of Palm Beach County Florida.
Put another way: a “probate” is a term often used to refer to the official, court supervised, administration of one’s estate. The legal proceedings which occur to your property after you die. A “probate” is often “opened up” by the filing of a Florida resident’s last will and testament, along with a court document known as a “petition for administration.” The person who has possession of someone’s last will and testament is referred to as a “custodian” in Florida. The custodian of a Florida will is required by Florida probate law to file the will with the clerk of the county where the Florida resident lived before he or she passed away. If your uncle Mo died when he was a resident of Boca Raton Florida, then file the will with the clerk for Palm Beach County. Uncle Mo’s estate will be administered in the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach Florida. If there is no will, we say that a Florida resident died “intestate”. Since there is no will to file with the Palm Beach County clerk’s office, you may “open up” the estate, or begin the probate process, by filing a petition for administration that states that there is no last will and testament.
A “petition for administration” is the initial document that you file to open up an estate in Florida. The Florida petition for administration typically lists very basic facts about the Florida resident who is just passed away, including their full name, what other names they may have been known by, their social security number (although this is redacted because it is confidential information), the names and addresses of family members, and an estimated value of the Florida estate. Oh yes, don’t forget, when anyone files a lawsuit in Florida, or opens up an estate, or files a petition for administration, you need to pay the filing fee with the clerk. There is a clerk’s office in every courthouse in Palm Beach County where you pay the filing fee. The filing fee to open an estate in Palm Beach County is $401.
In Palm Beach County, there are three court houses. There is one “North County” courthouse on PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, there is one in downtown West Palm Beach, on N. Dixie Hwy., and there is one “South County” courthouse on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach Florida. Each of these three court houses in Palm Beach County have probate judges, who every day, regularly hear cases, lawsuits, probates, and estate administration issues. In legal terms, we refer to the probate court as the “probate division” of Palm Beach County. In Florida, all of the court houses, and all of the counties and cities, are divided into judicial districts. Palm Beach County sits in the 15th Judicial District. That’s why on all court filed documents, including a petition for administration, you’ll see at the very top of the document a reference to the “15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County Florida.” The clerk’s office will issue a file number for every new lawsuit and every new probate which is opened up. Once this file number is given to you, it will appear on every court filed document on the right-hand side, next to two capital letters which will indicate which court, and which judge, has been assigned to the probate. The probate judges are selected randomly by the county clerk’s computer system. When you file a petition for administration and open up an estate in Palm Beach County, you cannot select your judge. One will be randomly assigned to you. That judge will hear the probate case, and will make all decisions regarding the Palm Beach County probate process, which we sometimes refer to as the “estate administration process”, or simply “estate administration” or “probate”.
In Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on PGA Boulevard, there are two judges who sit in the probate division. In the “main” courthouse for Palm Beach County, Florida, in downtown West Palm Beach, there is one judge who handles all probate matters. In Delray Beach, that courthouse has two judges who hear probate matters.
When a petition for administration is filed, this document will be “served” on all “interested” persons. People who are involved in the estate, and are entitled to “notice” that the probate process has been initiated by someone, will receive a copy of the petition for administration. Often, this petition for administration will be accompanied by other documents, and will be sent to interested persons by certified mail, return receipt requested. Often, this petition is served by “formal notice”. Someone who receives a copy of the petition for administration may file an “answer” or a response, within 20 days. Failure to file a response or an answer within 20 days means that you are waiving your right to respond. If you do not respond in a timely manner to the notice that the probate process has begun, actions may be taken that you do not have knowledge of. You cannot hold up the probate process by failing to file an answer or failing to get involved. If you’re an interested person in the estate, such as a beneficiary, a widow, or creditor of the late Florida resident, you should hire a Florida estate attorney, and file an answer– or otherwise participate in the ongoing estate administration. The probate law in Florida does not favor those who do not get involved or those who sit on their rights. Florida probate law favors those who get involved, who participate in the estate administration process, and who exercise their rights.
The probate process, the estate administration process, will be governed by the Florida Probate Code which is a set of statutes or laws, and the Florida Probate Rules. The Florida Probate Code creates many rights, duties, and obligations for persons and property related to a deceased Florida resident. In short, the Florida Probate Code creates very valuable property rights and interests for widows, heirs, and creditors. It also provides very valuable procedural rights for those who may have, and may allege they have, an interest in someone’s property or in a Florida estate. The Florida Probate Rules are, as the name implies, guidelines, procedures and timeframes, for implementing Florida probate law, throughout the probate process.
There are other court filed documents, during the probate process which are very important. One is a “notice of administration” which may be given, or delivered, to persons who may not necessarily be entitled to a copy of the petition for administration. The personal representative of the estate may wish to give somebody official notice that an estate in Palm Beach County, Florida has been opened. This notice provides the recipient with three months to object to the will or the appointment of the personal representative of the estate. Why do this? You should file a notice of administration if you believe there are troublemakers out there who may attack the will, seek to set the will aside, or overturn it. There may be persons out there who may try to hinder the probate process or who want to initiate litigation. Many times, probate lawyers will serve a notice of administration upon people who may attack the estate– to, in essence, legally compel any potential litigants to come forward now. Another important Florida probate document is called a “notice to creditors”.
One of the most important jobs for the personal representative of a Palm Beach County estate is to pay the just debts of the Florida resident who just died. The personal representative of a Palm Beach County Probate has a duty to creditors to treat them fairly and impartially. At the same time, the Palm Beach County personal representative should not pay claims, debts, which are improper. In other words, you shouldn’t pay just any person who is making a claim against the estate. A notice to creditors provides official notice that there is a Palm Beach County probate: if you have a claim against the Palm Beach estate, you should file it within three months. If the personal representative knows that there are people out there who are owed money by the Florida resident who just passed away, then the Florida personal representative has a duty to deliver the notice to creditors to each and every known creditor. This also includes creditors of the deceased Florida resident who the personal representative may suspect of being a creditor or should know is a creditor. Since the Florida resident who owes money is now dead, the estate of the dead Florida resident must now pay the creditor.
Creditors’ rights in a Palm Beach County probate may include rights of a widow who signed a prenuptial agreement, a postnuptial agreement, or a divorced spouse who may have rights under a marital settlement, or a property distribution agreement. If you are a widow, or a former wife or husband, you need to get involved in the Palm Beach County probate right away!
One of the many jobs of the probate court judges will to appoint an executor, or someone to administer the estate. In Florida, we call this person who runs the estate, or who administers the probate process, a “personal representative”. The personal representative will be appointed by an order of the probate judge, and will receive “letters of administration” which are the court-authorized powers granted to the personal representative to handle the Palm Beach County probate and otherwise carry out the business of the estate. Often, many people want to serve as the personal representative of an estate. The personal representative in a Palm Beach County probate is entitled to reasonable compensation. Many people want the power and authority to be in charge and to run or administer the probate process and handle the estate administration tasks.
If the personal representative is not doing a good job, or if the personal representative is not doing anything, or is moving too slowly, you may file a petition with the court to remove the personal representative and have the personal representative replaced with somebody else.
Finally, once all the assets of the deceased Florida resident are gathered, once his or her final income taxes are paid, and his or her debts, obligations, and loans are paid off, the personal representative may distribute the estate, after paying compensation to the probate lawyers, the personal representative, and all expenses of administration. Interested persons will receive a copy of a petition for discharge from the personal representative. This is the document that is signaling that the Palm Beach County probate is coming to an end. The petition for discharge typically includes either a complete accounting of the Palm Beach estate, or a waiver of an accounting if one is not needed. It may also include a plan for distribution, which tells the court who gets what. This document will also detail the compensation which has been, or will be, paid to the personal representative and others and what the costs and expenses are. Finally this document will seek a blessing from the probate court judge, stating that the personal representative for the Palm Beach County probate did everything right and that the estate is now officially closed-an order of discharge.
You have rights in a Palm Beach County probate! If you don’t like the plan for distribution, if you object to the personal representative’s compensation, if you believe the costs and expenses of administration were too high, if you believe that the personal representative did anything wrong, this is your chance to make your case, and to object. Once the personal representative of the Palm Beach County probate is discharged, the game is over absent some type of fraud or something that was hidden. In the end, a Palm Beach County probate can be a process that is easily manageable if you have competent and knowledgeable persons who are reasonable in their expectations. Unfortunately, the Palm Beach County probate can also include a fight over money, an inheritance lawsuit, an attempt to overturn the will, and a legal battle over money, bank accounts, and assets. Regardless of whether the Palm Beach County probate is simple, or complex and full of inheritance lawsuits, one thing is for sure: the dead Florida resident is that. Here she is not going to die again. This is your one shot to be involved in the estate. So get a good probate lawyer, one with experience, and take an interest in what’s going on in the Palm Beach County probate.