As a Jacksonville, Florida Probate Attorney, I understand the probate process and why many people seek to avoid it. Probate is the legal process used when the court has to get involved to help transfer assets after someone has died. There are several legal rules and procedures set up to make sure that the transfers are done properly and that the family is aware of what is being done.
There are three major reasons why people wish to avoid probate: First, probate is a relatively slow process. Because of the need to involve the court clerks and judicial officers, finalizing an estate naturally would be more time consuming than if it were done privately. Petitions must be filed with the court, notice given to creditors and family members, inventory lists developed and an accounting of income and expenses given. So, between the more cumbersome court procedures and the necessity of dealing with the court’s calendar, it typically takes many months to finalize an estate.
Second, probate is more expensive than if assets are transferred privately. There are several court fees involved in the probate process, including paying an attorney to assist the personal representative in completing all of the additional tasks required by the court process. Filing fees, fees for publishing notices to creditors and fees for providing accountings to the court and the rest of the family all combine to make transferring assets through the probate process relatively expensive.
Third, probate is a public process. If there is a will, it is required to be filed with the court. The will and all of the probate court documents are public records. Anyone could go to the courthouse or maybe just look online to learn about your assets and who would be receiving them. A nosy neighbor just might want to know how much you were worth at death and to whom you owned debts. People who prey on the vulnerable frequently review probate documents in order to try to obtain assets at a bargain basement price. In contrast, trust administration can be completely private.
My conclusion, as a Jacksonville, Florida Probate Attorney, is that compared with trust administration, the Florida probate process is slower, more expensive, and public. There are several estate planning methods to avoid probate. Attending our “Truth About Estate Planning Workshop” will provide you with information on how you can plan to avoid probate.