Florida's Simplified Probate Process—A Summary Administration
Florida Probate Rules for Small Estates
The probate process can vary somewhat from state to state, but many jurisdictions have similar laws in place that allow for a simplified probate process when the value of a decedent's estate is less than a certain amount. Florida is no exception. The simplified probate process in Florida is called a "summary administration."
Which Estates Qualify for Summary Administration?
A Florida estate can qualify for summary administration under one of two circumstances.
- The value of the decedent's Florida probate property doesn't exceed $75,000 as of 2019. This limit does not include the value of the decedent's protected homestead real estate, however. Heirs can still take advantage of Florida's summary administration if a resident dies with $50,000 in the bank and a homestead residence worth $250,000.
- An estate will also qualify for Florida summary administration if the decedent has been dead for more than two years, regardless of the value of his or her assets, but there must have been no prior probate administration.
What If the Decedent Had Debts?
Florida law prohibits creditors from making claims against estates for debts owed by the deceased after two years have passed from the date of the debt. Creditors are therefore automatically barred from making a claim when an estate's summary administration is the result of two years or more passing since the decedent died, assuming they made no claims during that two-year period.
Otherwise, if the estate qualifies because of its value, the individual who is petitioning the court for summary administration—typically a spouse or other family member—must make a good faith effort to locate any and all creditors the decedent might have had. Creditors must be provided with a copy of the petition for summary administration and advised as to how they can make claims against the estate for payment, to the extent that payment is possible.
Some very small estates might not have sufficient assets available to cover all the decedent's debts. This is referred to as an "insolvent" estate, and creditors are simply not paid in this case.
The estate can also publish official notice to any unknown creditors in a local newspaper. Creditors have three months after the date of publication to make claims.
The Filing Fee for Simplified Probate in Florida
The filing fee for a Florida summary administration is usually $345 as of 2019, but fees can differ somewhat by county. For example, Miami-Dade County charges just $236 if the estate is valued at less than $1,000.
Contact your local probate court to confirm. Fees can additionally increase slightly from year to year.
How Long Does Florida Summary Administration Take?
The process begins with filing a petition for summary administration with the probate court. The surviving spouse must sign and verify the petition if the decedent was married. Beneficiaries named in the will don't necessarily have to sign and verify it, but any who don't must be formally served with notice that the petition has been filed with the court.
The petition must include a full list of the deceased's property and assets, the value of each asset, and the name of the beneficiary who is to receive each asset.
The court will review the petition and issue an Order of Summary Administration if everything is in order. This releases the decedent's property to the estate's beneficiaries. No executor or personal representative is required to serve.
This can take as little as a week for very small estates, but it will more likely take up to a month or two. This is still significantly less time than a Florida formal administration.
Some Drawbacks of Summary Administration
One important consideration involved in this type of proceeding involves the decedent's debts. Beneficiaries can be liable for these debts for two years after the date of death if they're not satisfied through the summary administration, but only up to the value of the property or asset they received from the estate.
If the decedent owed $6,000 on a credit card and a beneficiary received his $500 automobile, that beneficiary would be responsible for only $500.
It's possible that an unknown creditor can surface during this time and make a claim for payment, but this deadline is shortened to three months if notice was published in a newspaper.
Another Alternative for Very Small Estates
Extremely small estates might qualify for Florida's "Disposition Without Administration" process instead. This option is available to estates when all the decedent's assets are either exempt from creditor claims or the value of her assets does not exceed her funeral expenses and medical expenses incurred in the last 60 days. The estate cannot include real estate.
Should You Take Advantage of Florida Summary Administration?
A Florida summary administration might appear to be a cost-effective and less time-consuming process than formal administration, it's not appropriate in all situations. Consult with a Florida probate attorney if you think a will contest is possible, if there are heirs who can't be located, if the estate has multiple creditors, or if it's insolvent.
A lawyer can help you determine the best course of action if you're dealing with an estate that's a bit more complex.