Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, in 1789, said “…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

Unfortunately, we are all going to face death at some point.  How we prepared for it can make it a lot less traumatic for our family.  While most of us don’t want to think about this inevitability, proper estate planning can alleviate hurt feelings and family disputes.

At the very least, you should have a Will.  A Will sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and the care of any minor children.  It also allows you to appoint a personal representative (executor) who will carry out those wishes as well as waive a bond and provide the personal representative some powers to make the administration easier.  Even better is a Living Trust. The Trust quickly distributes the assets that you placed in the trust and, any assets in the trust, will not need to go through probate.

Other assets that avoid probate are assets that are held in joint tenancy by more than one person—for example, a bank account owned by more than one person; assets which have a designated beneficiary—for example, a Payable on Death or Transfer on Death bank account, or a life insurance policy with a named beneficiary.

In Florida, there are several ways to administer an estate.  The two most common are Summary Administration or Formal Administration.

A Summary Administration can be used if the death occurred more than two years ago, or the value of the probate assets are less than $75,000.  This type of probate is usually much shorter than a formal administration.

A Formal Administration petitions the Court to appoint a personal representative.  Once a Personal Representative is appointed, letters of administration are issued which allow the Personal Representative to marshal the decedent’s assets, pay debts and taxes, and eventually, distribute what is left over to the beneficiaries or heirs. Once the assets are distributed and any creditor’s claims have been paid, the personal representative will petition the court to discharge them and relieve them of any further responsibility, which closes the estate.  The process usually takes nine months to a year to complete.

Whichever option is best for your situation, the key to a smooth transition, is to have proper estate plan in place, which is a gift to your loved ones.