The State of Florida recently released its annual statistical report on probate caseloads for the past year. The report goes a long way in explaining just why it’s so often a painfully slow process to resolve a probate case.
It looked at six areas of cases that encompass what our courts refer to as “probate filings.” These include: 1) standard probates of estates, 2) trust administrations, 3) guardianships, 4) mental health actions, 5) substance abuse cases, and 6) “other social cases” (a catch-all category). For the year 2014-2015 year, there were a total of around 116,000 probate filings in these categories across the entire state.
Locally, in the 4th Judicial Circuit covering Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties, 5,364 probate cases were filed last year, with almost 4,500 of those filed in Duval County alone. In Duval, only one judge is currently assigned to hear all of these cases. With only one judge, it’s not surprising that the 4th Judicial Circuit has one of the lowest closure rates compared to other circuits, with 89.1% of cases being “cleared” within the year.
In St. Johns County, part of the 7th Judicial Circuit, 945 probate cases were filed last year. There are four judges in St. Johns County assigned to the circuit, but not all of them hear probate cases. The 7th Judicial Circuit (including counties other than St. Johns) fared better in its clearance rate, with 95.5% of probate cases being closed.
What do these numbers mean for you? The court system is not purposefully moving slow. However, there simply are far too many cases and too few judges to hear them all in a timely manner. If you don’t want your family to be one of the slow-to-unwind cases comprising these statistics, talk to an attorney about estate planning options that avoid court altogether, such as revocable living trusts.
Learn more about your options at our next FREE Truth About Estate Planning workshop on May 3rd; click for details and registration information.