Longwood Florida Attorneys
Mom passed away in Florida.  What do I do next?

Mom passed away in Florida. What do I do next?

We receive a lot of calls and emails asking this question. While no two families or deaths are the same, there are a few basics that we recommend that you do to prepare for speaking with a probate attorney.

  1. Death certificates: You will need at least one to initiate probate and it is important that it be without cause of death. You will likely need an additional one for each different entity like the plan administrator for IRAs and pension plans. For most purposes it is critical that you request the certificates without cause of death because, in general, cause of death is only needed if a wrongful death suit is anticipated, if a life insurance policy is fairly new and/or if the death was due to suicide;
  2. Bills: In general, don’t pay any bills not directly related to the homestead, i.e., utility bills, HOA fees, yard maintenance, etc. Collect all other bills for the probate lawyer, who will send the appropriate Notice to Creditors to each entity; there are time limitations that are connected with the probate process and the survivors may not be responsible for payment of some of the bills or the probate attorney may be able to negotiate a reduction in the amounts due;
  3. If the decedent arranged Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) provisions for liquid assets and securities, providing a death certificate to the appropriate entity will result in simple transfer of those assets. However, there is a caveat to this: If the decedent was married, the surviving spouse is likely entitled to what is known as an elective share and thus, may have a claim on such accounts, so don’t necessarily assume that PODs and TODs are a way for children of previous marriages or relationships may be able to work around surviving spousal rights;
  4. Funeral/cremation arrangements: It is improper to use the decedent’s credit cards to pay for final arrangements; first search for any prepaid plans and make sure that you follow the contract provisions that your parent may have made before death; if you or one of the other survivors pay for the funeral and or cremation process, retain your Paid in Full receipt as this will be important to provide to the probate attorney. Reimbursement for final arrangements has priority in payment over all other creditor claims;
  5. Do NOT start giving away the decedent’s possessions! Just because there is a will designating who gets what, you do NOT have authority to dispose of anything although obviously, disposing of perishable food is advisable;
  6. Do NOT list the decedent’s house for sale until you’ve spoken with your probate attorney. If the house was only in your mother’s name, an estate MUST be opened and a Petition to Determine Homestead must be initiated. We often get calls from adult children and/or realtors telling us that they have a buyer for a house where someone has recently perished. As soon as a title company begins looking at the chain of ownership, they will quickly alert everyone that this house cannot be legally sold without a court order determining who is the new legal owner;
  7. Remember that a Power of Attorney stops breathing when the grantor dies; the agent under the Power of Attorney no longer has the power to do anything on behalf of the decedent and cannot act upon the Last Will and Testament without a valid court order. To that end, locate the original Last Will and Testament, as it will be needed to move forward;
  8. Notify the bank and any appropriate entities to halt any auto payments from the decedent’s accounts. These withdrawals will not halt unless you take affirmative action to ensure this occurs;
  9. Just because your decedent may have a trust, do NOT assume that probate will be unnecessary and in particular, do NOT assume that all assets were correctly placed into the trust. If you are the successor trustee, you will need to file appropriate credentials to prove that you have the right to step into the decedent’s shoes. If the trust was revocable, it likely used the decedent’s social security number as an identifier to banks and brokerages. A new tax ID number will be needed before assets may be moved or liquidated.
  10. In Florida, if any heir under the Last Will and Testament OR under intestacy laws if there is no will, will inherit more than fifteen thousand dollars, a guardianship must be initiated even if the child has a surviving parent. So please make your probate attorney aware of any potential beneficiaries under the age of eighteen.
  11. It would be helpful before seeing your probate attorney to gather full legal names and addresses for all beneficiaries along with a rough list of all known assets, their location and approximate value, VIN numbers for any vehicles, last four digits for any bank or investment accounts, and it is advisable to take photos of any valuables in the home or elsewhere along with ensuring that the assets are safe and secure and that no one without specific court authority is going in and out of the decedent’s home and/or removing any of the decedent’s personal possessions!

This list is by no means exhaustive of all the necessary legal moves, but it is a start. We find that loss of a family member often leaves those behind feeling somewhat victimized, at a loss what to do to honor their loved one, and how to avoid making costly and inappropriate steps. But we also find that most people want to do something. They want to ACT, in part to stay busy, to do the right thing, and to take last steps to honor the person they loved.

Haley and I are more than happy to answer other questions about what comes next. We suggest that you make an appointment to speak with one of us. Plan on spending at least an hour with us going through all the paperwork that you should bring with you to our initial meeting and on answering further questions we will ask that will enable us to take care of the probate process. We may discover that no probate is needed. Our fees will be based upon the statutory rates provided under Florida law related to fees for Personal Representatives and Attorneys. There will be costs associated with filing initial paperwork with the Clerk of Court in the county where your loved one resided. If property is owned in another state, ancillary probate may need to occur there. But these are all matters which you will know after your initial consultation with us.

Because we spend a great deal of time helping to determine what path is the most cost effective and correct for you, we do charge an initial consultation fee. We have found that none of the people who consult with us feel that fee to be unfair in light of all the valuable information they learn from us.

We care about our clients and their families and want to help our clients to help us do our very best job for them. If you have questions beyond those that we have provided above, please call to set an appointment to speak with us. We truly look forward to helping you move through and beyond your loss.

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