The probate process can be long and drawn-out, costing your survivors time as well as money. Fortunately, Florida offers some probate shortcuts for "small estates." If the property you leave behind at your death is below a certain amount, or if the estate is very uncomplicated, your loved ones might have ways to transfer your property more quickly and with less hassle than full-blown probate.
One simplified probate proceeding available to certain estates is called "summary administration." Your estate can qualify for this shortcut if either of the following is true:
(Fla. Stat. Ann. § § 735.201 and following.)
Summary administration is essentially a sped-up version of full probate.
Here are the steps of a typical summary administration:
Once you have the court order, you can present it to any person or institution who has property of the deceased person. For example, you can take the order to a bank to show you are the rightful beneficiary of the account funds.
Another simplified probate process available to small estates in Florida is called "disposition without administration." This shortcut allows you to use an informal process instead of probate.
To qualify, the deceased person must not have left behind any real estate, and the property in the estate can't exceed the following:
So what does all this mean? The bottom line is that if the size of your estate doesn't exceed these amounts, your estate can be settled very quickly because there aren't any remaining assets after these amounts are paid out.
Here are the steps of a typical disposition without administration:
Once you have the court order, if you're entitled to property, you can present the order to any person or institution who has that property. You'll notice there's no waiting period for creditors, which substantially lengthens probate proceedings.
Example: The only property in the estate is $2,000 in a bank account. You paid $2,200 in funeral expenses, and after the application for disposition without administration, the court orders the entire bank account to be distributed to you to reimburse the funeral expenses. You can present the order directly to the bank.
For more help handling an estate in general, see The Executor's Guide, by Mary Randolph (Nolo). For an introduction to how you can plan your estate to help your survivors, try Estate Planning Basics, by Denis Clifford (Nolo).
For more on Florida estate planning issues, see our section on Florida Estate Planning.