What is a Will?
A will is simply a document one creates in order to leave property to beneficiaries after death. Wills are also used to name guardians for minor children. An attorney can help make certain that a will is legally valid and better able to withstand any contesting of the will.
Creating a Valid Will
Several legal requirements exist in Florida in order for a will to be legally recognized:
- The person making the will, called the testator, must be at least 18 years old.
- 26 states allow handwritten wills, but Florida is not one of them. Therefore, a will must be typewritten.
- Two witnesses must watch the will being signed by the testator, then sign the will themselves.
- The will must state at least one beneficiary to receive the property named in the will.
Other requirements exist, the absence of any could be ground for the will to be declared invalid by a judge. But even when wills are correctly written and legally valid, they are often contested by heirs and would-be heirs in probate court.
Naming a "Personal Representative"
Called an "executor" in some states, in Florida a "personal representative" is named in a will by the deceased to handle many will-related affairs, including:
- The filing of the will in probate court,
- The management of the deceased's property during the probate process,
- The setting up of an estate bank account used for paying bills of the estate and to receive any money paid to the estate from liquidated assets,
- The paying of taxes for both the estate and the deceased's final income tax return,
- The distribution of the deceased's property according to the will.
How Long Does Probate Take?
Probate is a court-supervised process in which the deceased's assets are distributed to his or her beneficiaries according to a will, when one is in force. Probate also handles the paying of the estate's debts, and includes a three-month period where creditors may come forward.
During probate, the personal representative of the will may need to liquidate various assets such as real estate, resolve disputes or lawsuits pertaining to the will, and handle creditors' claims, all of which take time.
As such, probate takes at least three months for the creditors' claim period, and often can require 6 months to a year to finalize.