What Are My Rights As A Beneficiary To An Estate In The Florida Keys?

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Aislynn Thomas-McDonald - Family Law - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Aislynn Thomas-McDonald

Located in Coral Gables, FLThomas McDonald Law Firm

Phone: 786-438-1994
Fax: 305-851-2041

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Your rights as a beneficiary will differ depending on whether the deceased individual had a will in place. For example, were you listed in the will as a beneficiary? Are you the child or next-of-kin of someone who died intestate (without a will)? Spouses, children and heirs by operation of the law all have different rights; some are assumed to be beneficiaries while others would become interested parties to probate proceedings.

Probating The Estate

The probate process is essentially the tidying up of the decedent’s financial affairs. This includes resolving issues surrounding real property such as homes and land; tangible property such as cars; and all assets not otherwise named in a will. You are entitled to receive notice of anything that happens during probate proceedings as a beneficiary of the estate.

Any interested party can initiate a probate proceeding. Order of preference is:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Child
  • Siblings

Personal Representatives

An estate’s personal representative must be approved by the court and represented by an attorney to administer the proceedings on behalf of the estate. If there is a will, the person named in the will usually serves as personal representative; however, there are exceptions such as situations where someone is prohibited from serving due to not meeting the following qualifications:

  • Must be 18 years of age or older
  • Must be of sound mind and not have a felony on their record

A beneficiary can petition the court to appoint an alternative personal representative if they believe the personal representative is self-serving or does not meet the standards set by Florida law.

The personal representative is accountable to beneficiaries of the estate for preserving the assets, ensuring assets are not misappropriated, and addressing all creditor claims in a timely manner. If they fail to be accountable, beneficiaries can take steps to have them removed.

Should Personal Representatives Have An Attorney?

A personal representative should have an attorney guiding them through the process. A personal attorney’s attorney fees will be paid by the estate. This is a worthwhile investment for estates where there are more assets than debts. Unnecessary delays can shrink the inheritance for beneficiaries in such cases.

Estate Planning’s Effect On Beneficiaries

Avoid the potential pitfalls of the probate process by having a comprehensive estate plan in place before you die and an attorney assisting a personal representative through the probate process. Making sure crucial issues are addressed in advance can be a wonderful gift for your loved ones, providing them with certainty and peace of mind about what will happen when you are no longer with them.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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