Probate: The Benefits and Pitfalls of Summary Administration

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Summary AdministrationDoes my Estate qualify for Summary Administration and is it always the best choice?

In the State of Florida, Summary Administrati

on is a type of probate proceeding for small estates.  To be eligible, the estate must contain less than $75,000.00 in non-exempt assets OR at least 2 years have passed since the date of death.  Exempt assets – or assets that are exempt from all claims against the estate  (except perfected security interests) -include: the decedent’s homestead property;  household furniture and appliances in said property up to a net value of $20,000.00 as of the date of death;  up to two (2) motor vehicles held in the decedent’s name and regularly used by the decedent or members of the decedent’s immediate family as their personal vehicles; All qualified tuition programs (such as Florida’s Prepaid College Trust Fund); and all teacher/school administrator paid death benefits pursuant § 112.1915, Fla. Stat.

At first glance, some cases may appear to meet the requirements for Summary Administration.  To the decedent’s family, it may appear like the most practical and cost-effective way to administer an estate.  The most important aspect of a Summary Administration to keep in mind is that a personal representative (PR) is not appointed by the court.  In a Summary Administration, there is a Petitioner, but no PR.  A Petitioner does not have the same abilities to inquire, collect, manage or dispose of assets in the same manner as a court-appointed PR.

Example: Decedent (Bob) appears to have a small estate consisting of: his home (exempt homestead property); his vehicle (also exempt); and a checking account containing about $10,000.  Bob’s family is sure there are no other assets and decide a Summary Administration is the quickest and most cost-effective way to administer the estate, giving his heirs almost immediate access to the assets.   In less than two months, the Petitioner (Bob’s surviving spouse) is assigned, the assets are disbursed and Bob’s family is set, right?  WRONG.  Six months later, the Petitioner discovers there was another asset that Bob never mentioned – a CD containing over $20,000 at the same bank where the checking account was held!  Because the designated beneficiary was Bob’s brother who passed 2 years earlier, the proceeds were now a part of his estate and required probate.  So why didn’t the bank representatives inform the Petitioner of this account??  Because she had no authority to inquire about other assets at the bank and the bank representatives had no legal authority to discuss other accounts with her unless she was the court appointed PR.

Although Summary Administration may seem like the best choice in a difficult time, it isn’t always the right choice.  Unless the decedent’s family is 100% sure of every asset and known creditors of the estate, a formal probate administration is recommended. If you have any questions concerning probate, contact the attorneys at Barry L. Miller, P.A. for an analysis of your case.

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