If a person dies resident in Florida, there are some informal ways to determine whether a probate estate has been filed and there is a formal way. While the informal way involves little or no expense, it has its limitations. The formal way is more reliable, but can involve some expense.
The informal way is to search the probate court docket in the county of the deceased person’s residence at the time of death. With many court dockets being available online, this is a fairly easy and inexpensive step. The problem with this approach is that the search is only as good as the court docket on the date the search is performed. A probate could be filed the following day and you would have missed it. As a result, in order to be reliable, this approach requires periodic follow-up searches to determine the status of filing.
A more formal approach can be used by filing a document known as a caveat. Florida Statutes Section 733.110 provides that any interested person who is apprehensive that an estate, either testate or intestate, will be administered or that a will may be admitted to probate without that person’s knowledge may file a caveat with the court. If a caveat has been filed by an interested person other than a creditor, the court may not admit a Will of the decedent to probate or appoint a Personal Representative until formal notice of the petition for administration has been served on the caveator or the caveator’s designated agent and the caveator has had the opportunity to participate in proceedings on the petition.
So as a practical matter, if an interested person files a caveat in the county where the decedent died, no probate will proceed until the person filing the caveat has been put on notice. If you want to protect yourself in the event a probate is filed, you should consult an estate attorney about filing a caveat.