Who Should Be Notified When Probate Is Started?
Probate is a legal process that involves transferring the assets of a deceased person (decedent). This is a necessary and court-supervised process for:
- Identifying and collecting the decedent’s assets
- Paying the decedent’s remaining debts
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries, which typically occurs after probate costs and outstanding debts are paid
As a general rule, the people who should be notified when probate begins are the beneficiaries. Determining the status of beneficiaries and who must be notified of the probate process depends on whether the decedent had a will.
Who Are the Beneficiaries When the Decedent Created a Will?
It is a fairly simple task to identify the beneficiaries to be notified when a will exists. Estates that are administrated due to the terms of a will are referred to as “testate” estates. A testate administration is simple because the beneficiaries are explicitly identified by the will itself. As such, testate beneficiaries can be anyone since a decedent who creates a will can leave property with whomever he or she chooses.
Any beneficiaries named by the will should be notified when probate begins.
Who Are the Beneficiaries for Estates Where No Will Exists?
If no will is admitted to the probate court, the decedent’s estate is said to be “intestate.” For intestate estates, Florida statutes and probate rules are used to determine the beneficiaries and their legal interests.
The Florida Probate Code is located in Chapters 731-735 of the Florida Statutes, and § 732.102 and § 733.103 state that only “heirs” of the decedent can be beneficiaries to an intestate estate. This can create confusion since beneficiaries are entitled to notice for probate, but beneficiaries of an intestate estate are limited to family members who are heirs.
Much of the potential confusion is removed by looking to other Florida rules that provide clarity. Florida law says that intestate estates will be appointed a personal representative who is required to file the Notice of Administration in a prompt manner. Further, §733.212 of the Florida Statutes and Rule 5.240 collectively state how this process is to be fulfilled.
Specifically, probate notice is to be provided for the following parties:
- The decedent’s surviving spouse
- Beneficiaries under a will
- Trustees of a trust
- Anyone entitled to exempt property
- Devisees from a previous will
The key thing to note is that the only heir required to receive notice is a spouse. Other family members who qualify as heirs must be a beneficiary to be guaranteed the right to receive notice.
Fortunately, you are not without legal options if you are an heir who is not given the right to notice. First, keep in mind that information on probate proceedings is released online by most Florida county Circuit Courts. And, you may wish to file a probate caveat, according to § 731.110 of the Florida Statutes. As an heir who can qualify as an “interested person,” a caveat can compel a response that provides you with more information on the status of probate.
In summary, it is important to know that being an heir is no guarantee that you will be notified of probate. If you wish to learn more about protecting your legal interests in probate, contact us to speak with a Florida estate attorney today.