This is a brief guide on what to do when you’ve just learned you need to probate an estate in Florida, if you are the named Personal Representative in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament.
Your first steps:
- Make multiple of copies of the Will and “deposit” it with the clerk of the courts in the Florida county where the decedent principally resided. (If the decedent did not principally reside in Florida, DO NOT deposit the Will in a Florida clerk’s office.) Alternatively, retain a Florida probate attorney and that attorney will handle the deposit of the Will. Request at least two certified copies.
- Secure at least two (2) certified copies of the death certificate, preferably “sanitized” (without the cause of the death.) Most funeral homes will order 5 or more DC’s for you. You can additionally order them from the department of vital records or department of health and human services in the county where the decedent died. Or try VitalChek.com
- If you have access to decedent’s home, secure it properly and make sure no wasteful utilities are being idly consumed.
- If there is no Will, attempt to notify all possible beneficiaries including contact information. (You need not contact them immediately)
- Secure all of decedent’s vehicles. You should avoid driving them and do not allow other heirs to drive them unless they are otherwise insured on the vehicle. Liability from an accident could result in a judgment against the estate!
- Pets should be taken out of the home for safekeeping. Pets are considered personal property though they are rarely included in standard probate proceedings.
- Search for any and all financial documentation including bank statements, credit card bills, etc.
- Contact the decedent’s employer to determine whether or not there was a retirement account or life insurance policy for the benefit of the decedent’s heirs (or for paying for funeral expenses.)
- Secure the home as best you can bearing in mind that if thieves might raid the place in your absence. (Ask neighbors to watch over the home)
- Call a Florida Probate Attorney as soon as possible to help you determine your probate needs.