Some readers of this Florida legal blog may be familiar with the purpose of a personal will. For those who are not, a will is an estate planning tool that explains what the individual wants done with their property when they die. The maker of a will can name particular parties as beneficiaries to receive money, goods and other assets through the will. In a will, a person may also disinherit a family member who might otherwise have had a claim to some or all of the will creator's estate.
Upon the death of a person, their estate enters probate. The purpose of probate is to review the decedent's will to determine how their property is to be distributed. The property of the decedent is collected, the decedent's debts are satisfied and probate fees are paid; the decedent's assets are then given to the intended beneficiaries per the instructions of the will.
If a person dies without a will, the probate court will manage their estate according to the terms of the state's intestacy laws. A person is said to have died intestate if they do not have a will and, generally, estate assets pass to a decedent's closest blood relatives first and then farther out into the family tree as needed.
Not every piece of property owned by a decedent will enter probate. In fact, through careful estate planning and utilizing the help of estate planning attorneys, many people are able to prevent any part of their estates from entering the probate courts. By engaging in the joint ownership of property and using other estate planning techniques, it is sometimes possible to avoid the financial and temporal expenses of probating a will.
Finally, during the probate process, the court may hear challenges to a decedent's will. In some cases, the presumptive beneficiaries of a decedent may claim that problems exist in the will that should make it invalid. Again, in these difficult situations, it can be extremely beneficial to have a trusted estate planning attorney on one's side to overcome conflicts related to probate administration.