In Florida, probate is a court proceeding whereby a deceased person's final affairs are resolved and assets are distributed. There are two types of probate in Florida: summary administration and formal administration. In a summary probate, estate assets must not exceed $75,000 (not including the homestead) and there must be no creditors--or all creditors must be dealt with. Essentially all other probate cases fall under "formal" administration.
The difference between a summary administration and a formal administration is significant in many ways--especially in the time it takes to complete the probate process. In a summary administration, the person seeking to administer the estate files some paperwork and then essentially waits a period of time (usually 120-150 days). After that time, an order of summary administration is entered and the case is over.
However, in a formal administration, there are numerous steps which must be completed before the estate is fully probated. Many of these steps have built-in timeframes which result in the formal administration taking significantly longer (often from 10 months to a year and with complicated or disputed estates, it make take years).
Here are some examples of how these time periods impact the probate timetable in a formal administration. When a formal probate is first filed, interested parties such as beneficiaries must be given notice and an opportunity to consent to or to oppose matters such as admitting the Will to probate or determining who will be appointed as Personal Representative of the estate. It is not unusual for this process to take 45-60 days even if there is no opposition. Once the probate court appoints a Personal Representative, the court may require posting a Personal Representative's Bond-this can easily take 20-30 days. Next in the process is giving creditors notice of the probate. A Notice to Creditors must be published and creditors must file a claim within three months from first publication of the Notice to Creditors or within 30 days of service of the Notice to Creditors. If a creditor files a claim, the Personal Representative has 30 days within which to object to the claim. If a claim is objected to, the creditor then has 30 days to file an independent action (i.e. a lawsuit) to enforce the claim.
Just by reading these timeframes, it should be obvious why probate takes so long. And these timeframes are normal when there are no disputes. If you add in to the mix a Will contest or other dispute, then the timetable can be significantly longer. Whether you are a Personal Representative in charge of administering an estate or are a beneficiary awaiting distribution, you should prepare yourself-probate is slow and takes a long time to complete.
Understanding the time involved in probating an estate in Florida--especially in formal administration--you can see why estate planning attorneys urge clients to get their affairs in order. Proper planning with instruments such as a Living trust can reduce, and in some cases, avoid altogether the lengthy probate process.