In Florida, a circuit court judge supervises the process of probating a will. A personal representative is appointed by the judge to administer the deceased individual’s estate. Any person, bank or trust company can be appointed personal representative.

An individual can be appointed personal representative if he or she is a legal resident of Florida and a close relative of the deceased. Any person under the age of 18 or a person with a mental or physical disability cannot be appointed a personal representative.

If the deceased has a valid last will and testament and identified a personal representative, then that person will be appointed by the court provided the court deems that person capable of acting as a personal representative as dictated by estate law.

If the deceased did not leave a will, then deceased individual’s spouse may appoint a personal representative. If the deceased is not survived by a spouse, then heirs with a majority interest may appoint the representative. If multiple heirs fail to agree on choice, the judge will appoint one.

A personal representative has the legal obligation to administer the estate according to Florida law and identify the deceased individual’s property, provide an estate valuation and also protect the estate’s assets until they can be distributed according to the will.

A personal representative plays an important role in probate litigation. First, the personal representative identifies all creditors to serve notice of the death and to file any claims against the estate within a stipulated time. Once all claims are filed, the representative pays all valid claims and rejects invalid claims. If a lawsuit is filed in relation to rejection, the personal representative directs the defense of the estate against such claims.

After payment of all valid claims, the personal representative ensures that all federal and state estate taxes are paid. The representative can appoint any professional to help with estate administration and all expenses incurred will be paid from estate funds. Finally after paying creditors and taxes, the remaining probate assets are distributed among beneficiaries which closes probate period.

Luis E. Barreto