Yes and No. Working with a qualified estate planning attorney, you can craft an estate plan that will allow you to avoid the probate process. The legal nuances are complex and in order to develop an estate plan that accomplishes your goals you will require the help of an attorney—this is definitely not a time to try to do it yourself.
If you don’t get everything correct, your assets may still be required to go through one of the three potential probate processes in Florida.
Formal Probate Administration
This is the full-blown probate process wherein a court appoints the personal representative, creditors are given notice, and creditor’s claims are paid. Most large estates, estates with debts, and estates with unknown assets will require the formal probate process.
Disposition without Administration
This process is often compared with “small estate provisions” that some other states have. While it does not technically involve the probate process, it does involve the Florida court system. Disposition with Administration is only available in specific situations and to some very small estates. Typically, such cases involve petitions to the probate court for access to assets to pay outstanding funeral bills or medical expenses.
The third probate process is a simplified version of the formal process, but it is only available in very limited situations where all four of the following criteria are met:
- Less than $75,000 in total assets,
- All the beneficiaries and heirs consent to the petition,
- The decedent has no outstanding debts, and
- All of the decedent’s assets are known (if an asset is discovered in the future, you have to go back to court again!).