Why You May Still Have to Open a Legal Probate Proceeding
Probate is the legal process for recognizing the validity of a person’s Will after their death and appointing the nominated decision maker. This person, also known as personal representative in the state of Florida, administers the deceased person’s estate and ensures that their money and property are transferred to the beneficiaries specified in their Will. If someone dies without a Will, probate is the process by which a court declares who that person’s heirs are and appoints an administrator who will distribute the person’s money and property as required by Florida law. Because the probate process can sometimes be expensive and lengthy, and the details of the deceased person’s estate may become part of public court records, many people create an estate plan designed to avoid probate by using a revocable trust. However, there are some circumstances in which a probate proceeding may still be necessary.
A Personal Representative Is Needed to Represent the Estate in Court
Sometimes, a personal representative must be officially appointed to defend the estate in a court action. For example, in Sander v. Commissioner, Sandy and her daughter Leda were co-trustees of a revocable trust that Sandy had created. In addition, Leda was nominated as the personal representative by Sandy’s Will. When Sandy died, Leda became the sole trustee of Sandy’s trust. Leda’s attorney told her that there were no accounts or property that needed to be probated; as a result, Sandy’s Will was never probated, and Leda was never officially appointed as personal representative of her estate.
After Sandy’s death, the Internal Revenue Service issued notices of deficiency to Sandy for amounts it asserted that she owed in unpaid taxes. Leda filed a motion for redetermination of the amounts and sought to be substituted as a party for Sandy in the case. However, the tax court found that although Leda was the trustee of Sandy’s trust, she did not have the authority to act for her mother’s estate in litigation that did not involve trust property but instead involved only a redetermination of Sandy’s income tax deficiencies for two years prior to her death. Rather, a personal representative needed to be appointed who could litigate the case on behalf of Sandy’s estate.
In similar circumstances, even when all or most of a deceased person’s accounts and property are transferred outside of probate, a probate proceeding may still be necessary to appoint a personal representative to represent the estate in court.
A Personal Representative Is Needed to Transfer Real Estate
Some types of joint ownership avoid probate by vesting full title of the real estate in the surviving owner upon the death of the joint owner. Transferring the title of real estate to a trust that directs that title should be transferred to a specified beneficiary is another way to transfer real estate without probate. However, unless one of these estate planning solutions is implemented, a personal representative must typically be appointed to transfer real property in a probate proceeding.
Assets Were Not Retitled in Revocable Trust
Sometimes, even though a decedent had a revocable trust, not all assets were retitled in the trust and a probate proceeding is required to get those assets to the Trustee of that revocable trust.
Determination of Homestead Status
Sometimes, a title company will request an Order of the Court Determining Homestead Status in order to sell a homestead after the death of a decedent.
Give Us a Call
Although it is often possible to avoid probate, probate proceedings are necessary for some circumstances. Give us a call if we can help you create an estate plan that will enable you to transfer your money and property to your family or loved ones in the most efficient way possible.