Estate administration or estate settlement may involve trust administration if the decedent had a trust that owning assets titled in the name of the trustee, probate administration if the decedent died owning assets in their individual name that did pass by operation of contract or operation of law to beneficiaries, or both. Generally, both trust and probate administrations are concerned with the distribution of a decedent’s estate’s assets. Trust assets are typically distributed according to the terms of the trust but distributions may be impacted by the probate proceedings if a probate estate for the decedent has been opened. Assets that are subject to probate are distributed according to the terms of the Will, or in the absence of a Will, Florida’s intestacy law.
Trustees of trusts and Personal Representatives (called “Executor” in some states) administer the estate and are considered fiduciaries. A fiduciary has the power and obligation to act on behalf of another, is in a position of trust, and must act in good faith and honesty. Florida law and the terms of the Will or Trust define the fiduciary’s duties.
Oftentimes, the administration of a trust is conducted without court involvement, whereas, the court will always oversee probate and abbreviated probate proceedings. Probate administrations can be abbreviated if certain legal requirements are met (see Summary Administration). When there is no litigation and the decedent’s tax obligations are settled, standard formal probate proceedings should not last longer than 12 months. Depending on the terms of the Trust, administering a Trust can be done quickly or it may continue for many years.
Throughout this website, I try to provide a brief introduction and overview of the probate process (see Steps in a Probate Administration) and some of the duties of the personal representative. It’s intended to serve as a quick guide and is not exhaustive or a substitute for legal advice as such advice cannot be rendered without knowing your specific circumstances. If you have any questions regarding estate administration, please contact my office by phone at 239.919.2318 or online.