Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

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Topic Author
punkinhead
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Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by punkinhead »

My mother passed suddenly last week and I'm named as executor in her will. It's a simple will splitting her assets evenly between myself and my two brothers. She was incredibly organized, including a pre-paid funeral. Her largest account is a post-tax brokerage (about $1M) with the three of us named as beneficiaries. Her next largest (about $140k) is a Traditional IRA with us as beneficiaries. So far I've found two checking accounts and both are joint accounts with one of my brothers. There may be an annuity but I won't know until I fly to Florida in a couple days and look through her papers. Besides that her only assets are a vehicle with a lien and paid for trailer home on a leased lot. There is enough in one of the checking accounts to pay the vehicle lien. I don't think she has any other outstanding debts besides hospital bills from the day she passed, which should be minor since she was pronounced dead immediately on arrival. My understanding is that only the trailer home and vehicle will go through probate since the financial accounts are either jointly owned or have named beneficiaries. It's possible since the trailer might count as a homestead and up to 2 vehicles are exempt that I can get a summary administration from the court instead of full probate.

I've never settled an estate before. Plus it would be filed in Florida and I live in Indiana. I don't know if court filings can be done remotely. I know the clerk of courts requires the original of the will. It appears to be a simple estate but I'm worried I'll miss a step. None of the other family members are opposed to the expense of my hiring a lawyer. It would ease my mind and take some pressure off but I don't know that it's really necessary. My question is, should I engage a probate lawyer to guide me through this? What would be a typical cost for a simple estate?
PoppyA
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by PoppyA »

What county did she live in? Getting assistance from the Clerk of the court in Miami will be difficult, but getting help in Hernando County might be possible.
Topic Author
punkinhead
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by punkinhead »

PoppyA wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 6:52 am What county did she live in? Getting assistance from the Clerk of the court in Miami will be difficult, but getting help in Hernando County might be possible.
She lived in Hardee County. It looks like the Clerk of Court is in Wauchula (where she lived) which is a very small town.
behhp
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by behhp »

The attorney who wrote the will may be able to line out the different forms that need to be completed and charge just an hour or so consulting fee. My mother recently passed and I was the executor of the will and that is how I got started on the process and to know what to do.
The clerk of court in the county my mother lived was not allowed to give advice but they can give you the forms you will need also.
Sorry for your loss also.
tibbitts
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by tibbitts »

My experience with this:

I was not a FL resident at the time, but it wouldn't necessarily have mattered. My relative had a trust and a will, so the amount left over for the will easily qualified for being a "small estate." The attorney wasn't an especially inexpensive one for a decade ago (rate was $500/hr I think) but the total cost for everything (filing fees that I didn't have to deal with myself, etc., including some I don't remember now and wasn't aware of then) was ... about $500? I don't remember exactly but close to that. Most of that wasn't time for the attorney but for related expenses, although I met with the attorney for about 20 minutes. There were something like a half-dozen documents to sign, notarize, etc. and just not having to learn what they were, getting them executed properly, and filed at the court - and knowing that I wasn't missing something - was more than worth the money.
popoki
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by popoki »

You can’t spend from a joint checking account. Those are owned by your brother.
Gray doesn't matter.
Topic Author
punkinhead
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by punkinhead »

popoki wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 8:16 am You can’t spend from a joint checking account. Those are owned by your brother.
I understand. We've already discussed it and he will write checks out of that account if necessary. He understands that the only reason my mother put his name on the account is to aid in just this situation. I think the reason she chose him instead of me even though I'm the executor is because he lives in the same town as the bank which is in a state other than Florida. I don't expect it to be contentious. He doesn't seem to view that money as "his" but rather as part of the estate even though we know legally he can take the money for himself at any time.
ATTappman
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by ATTappman »

In Florida, an estate of that size must go through probate. The Florida Rules of Probate require a probate case to be handled by an attorney. The first step is filing a Petition for Administration with the clerk of court in the decedent's county of residence. I thought it might be possible for a non-attorney to file that Petition, just to get the case started, but I was shut down by the clerk of court's office. There is no publicly available standard form or boilerplate for any of the documents needed for a probate case. There seems to be no way for a layman to do it. Estates with assets less than $75,000 can file a Petition for Summary Administration, which supposedly can be done by a layman.

The Florida Probate Statute sets a standard legal fee of 3% of the estate's assets. Some law firms charge the standard fee. Others will do it by the hour. I have been involved in two probate cases with assets similar to the one you're describing, and hired law firms that charged by the hour. I am not a Florida resident. It's possible to do everything remotely, since the law firm does all the filings.

In Florida the executor is referred to as the "Personal Representative."
Chardo
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by Chardo »

You are the executor of a million dollar estate. You don't have any knowledge or experience, and you live far away. You could try learning or guessing what you need to do, and scramble to do it all, hoping you don't make any mistakes. Or you can pay a couple thousand, maybe less, to have it done properly.
prd1982
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by prd1982 »

popoki wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 8:16 am You can’t spend from a joint checking account. Those are owned by your brother.
You can with your brother’s help. I know this forum talks a lot about contentious families, but most just want to do the right thing. If the checking account was joint to help pay the mothers bills, many joint owners are happy to use the money to settle the estate
popoki
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by popoki »

prd1982 wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 9:15 am
popoki wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 8:16 am You can’t spend from a joint checking account. Those are owned by your brother.
You can with your brother’s help. I know this forum talks a lot about contentious families, but most just want to do the right thing. If the checking account was joint to help pay the mothers bills, many joint owners are happy to use the money to settle the estate
The brother would need to write the checks. PR/executor can't sign for the deceased on a joint account. If the amount is over $18k, that would be gifting, which would require notification to the IRS.
Gray doesn't matter.
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Raraculus
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by Raraculus »

punkinhead wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 5:32 amMy understanding is that only the trailer home and vehicle will go through probate since the financial accounts are either jointly owned or have named beneficiaries. It's possible since the trailer might count as a homestead and up to 2 vehicles are exempt that I can get a summary administration from the court instead of full probate.
A Summary Administration is possible as long as it's just the homesteaded trailer, two vehicles, and personal property.
I don't know if court filings can be done remotely. I know the clerk of courts requires the original of the will.
Probate court actions are mostly done remotely. You can mail in original documents to the clerk of courts. I did mine via Zoom and as well as filing paperwork on the FL Courts e-Filing Portal.
My question is, should I engage a probate lawyer to guide me through this? What would be a typical cost for a simple estate?
Yes, because a homestead estate requires an attorney to file. The only kink I can see is that it sits on leased land. Maybe a layperson could do a probate action because it's not affecting the land interest. But, still, it would be nice to have a local attorney to guide the process.
bsteiner
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by bsteiner »

ATTappman wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 8:51 am In Florida, an estate of that size must go through probate. The Florida Rules of Probate require a probate case to be handled by an attorney. The first step is filing a Petition for Administration with the clerk of court in the decedent's county of residence. I thought it might be possible for a non-attorney to file that Petition, just to get the case started, but I was shut down by the clerk of court's office. There is no publicly available standard form or boilerplate for any of the documents needed for a probate case. There seems to be no way for a layman to do it. Estates with assets less than $75,000 can file a Petition for Summary Administration, which supposedly can be done by a layman.

The Florida Probate Statute sets a standard legal fee of 3% of the estate's assets. Some law firms charge the standard fee. Others will do it by the hour. I have been involved in two probate cases with assets similar to the one you're describing, and hired law firms that charged by the hour. I am not a Florida resident. It's possible to do everything remotely, since the law firm does all the filings.

In Florida the executor is referred to as the "Personal Representative."
This one is under $75,000.

The reason you don't need a lawyer for a summary administration for an estate under $75,000 is that while a personal representative needs to have a lawyer (Florida Probate Rule 5.030, https://www-media.floridabar.org/upload ... 4-23-1.pdf (see page 26)), there's no personal representative for a summary administration.

This estate is under $75,000. The assets passing outside the Will don't count.

Of course, by naming beneficiaries for the brokerage account, they gave up the opportunity to leave it to the children in trust to keep it out of their estates and to protect it against their creditors and spouses, and Medicaid. However, when divided three ways, each child's share is relatively modest, and if the risk of any of these things happening is sufficiently small it might not be worth the effort. It also risked an unintended result if a child predeceased them, and it risked chaos if one child balked at contributing his/her share of any debts, taxes and expenses, but in this case the children are cooperating.

A drawback of summary admininstration is that you have to be able to identify all of the assets in advance, which many people can't do, but in this case they seem to have been able to identify the assets.

We handle estates on a time basis. It's usually much less than a percentage fee.
Raraculus wrote: Sun Jul 07, 2024 9:53 am
... a homestead estate requires an attorney to file. The only kink I can see is that it sits on leased land. Maybe a layperson could do a probate action because it's not affecting the land interest. But, still, it would be nice to have a local attorney to guide the process.
I didn't see any requirement to have a lawyer for the petition to determine homestead.

I haven't needed to get many homestead determinations. If we're not concened about creditor protection for the property (in other words, where the other assets were sufficient to pay any creditors), we've been able to get title companies to accept deeds signed by both the persons who would take if the property is homestead and the persons who would take if the property is not homestead.

I got a homestead determination once in what could have been a disputed domicile case between Florida and a northern state. I thought that getting a homestead determination would add a feather to the scale on the Florida side. I have another such case now and will probably get a homestead determination for the same reason.
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punkinhead
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by punkinhead »

I'm in Florida now at my mom's place and have contacted two local probate lawyers. Both politely told me the estate is too simple for them to bother with and that I should do it myself. I've located a few more accounts plus a life insurance policy so the estate is now worth a bit north of $1.5M. But since all the accounts are joint or have beneficiaries listed it still counts as a very simple estate that doesn't require probate. There is a Transfer On Death on her mobile home trailer and the lot lease. According to the DMV website I can transfer her vehicle title to me or another heir once the lien is settled. My brother has agreed to write a check to settle the lien out of the account he jointly owned with her.

I'd have been willing to pay a lawyer for an hour or two of consult even if they didn't want to get involved beyond that, but apparently they're not interested. One question I can't find the answer to is if I need to publish a Notice to Creditors if the estate won't go through probate and, if so, how since I can't refer creditors to any court filings.
tibbitts
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Re: Hire lawyer for simple probate in Florida?

Post by tibbitts »

punkinhead wrote: Tue Jul 09, 2024 7:39 am I'm in Florida now at my mom's place and have contacted two local probate lawyers. Both politely told me the estate is too simple for them to bother with and that I should do it myself. I've located a few more accounts plus a life insurance policy so the estate is now worth a bit north of $1.5M. But since all the accounts are joint or have beneficiaries listed it still counts as a very simple estate that doesn't require probate. There is a Transfer On Death on her mobile home trailer and the lot lease. According to the DMV website I can transfer her vehicle title to me or another heir once the lien is settled. My brother has agreed to write a check to settle the lien out of the account he jointly owned with her.

I'd have been willing to pay a lawyer for an hour or two of consult even if they didn't want to get involved beyond that, but apparently they're not interested. One question I can't find the answer to is if I need to publish a Notice to Creditors if the estate won't go through probate and, if so, how since I can't refer creditors to any court filings.
I was fortunate that the attorney that created my parent's estate documents was still working, although that often isn't the case.
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