What does probate mean? Probate is a topic that we talk about frequently here on the Weidner Law blog, but today we’re getting to the basics of it all.
What Does Probate Mean? Understanding the Concept of Probate
The word “probate” comes from the Latin word “probatum” which means “a thing proved” and essentially, this is just what probate is.
Probate is the process by which a will is proven through the court system. The probate court’s job is to prove that the last will and testament of the deceased is unaltered and authentic according to how it was written and intended by the deceased person.
Why Does it Matter if a Last Will And Testament is Authentic?
Why do we spend time, money, and resources to prove that a last will and testament is authentic? Well, because a person’s last will and testament is the very last part of their legacy. Their will is the final way that the wishes of a loved one can be carried out.
Unfortunately, sometimes the last will of the deceased turns out not to be the last will of the deceased, and in that situation, the court will seek to put the situation right so that the wishes of the deceased are carried out.
For example, a loved one who has an existing last will and testament may have filed that document with their estate planning attorney. Before their death, however, that person suffered severely from dementia and was being cared for by a private nurse. This private nurse takes it into their mind to take advantage of the incapacitated individual and writes out a new last will and testament that leaves all property of the estate to themselves. Because the owner of the estate has dementia, they are easily coerced by the nurse to sign this document. Now, when the estate owner dies, the private nurse submits the new last will and testament as the official document and last wishes of the deceased. When the deceased’s children hear about this new last will and testament, they know that their mother would not write them out of their will and they get in touch with their mother’s estate planning attorney who has a copy of the last valid last will and testament that their mother wrote.
In the situation above, probate court must determine which is the valid last will and testament and ensure that the valid document is upheld in the final estate proceedings.
Why Does Probate Matter If a Last Will And Testament is Authentic?
If a last will and testament has been proven as authentic, why do we have to go through the probate process? Can’t we just carry out the wishes of the deceased person and move forward?
There is more to the probate process than simply verifying the last will and testament of the deceased person. The probate process also serves to tie up loose ends for the deceased and their family.
For example, during probate, the executor of the estate ensures that debts of the estate are paid, that a final tax return is filed, and that all property deeds and licenses are transferred to their new rightful owner. This process is all overseen by the court to ensure that the executor of the estate is acting responsibly.
If we did not carry out the probate process, a number of unfortunate things could happen.
- The estate of the deceased would not be distributed according to the wishes of the deceased.
- Property would not legally be transferred to new owners and so those who inherit the property would have no legal right to that property at all.
- Debts of the deceased would go unpaid which may result in the reposession of items.
- The property of the deceased could fall into disarray since no one is taking care of that property anymore.
- Taxes would go unpaid and lead to a very complicated and unpleasant situation.
- Property could be stolen or sold from the estate that was meant to be given to an heir. This can lead to items getting into the wrong hands. For example, a wealthy individual may own a Picasso painting and have promised that painting to the museum of art. If the probate process is not followed, the painting may be stolen by a thief and find its way onto the black market, and get lost forever.
In short, the probate process matters because it is the tying up of loose ends so that the last chapter of the deceased person’s life can come to a close.
Do You Have to Get An Attorney For the Probate Process in Florida?
Yes. We have touched on this question a few times before here on the Weidner Law blog. In the state of Florida, the probate process must be carried out with legal counsel – or a probate attorney – on side. Having an attorney for the probate process isn’t just a good idea because it’s necessary either, it’s a very good idea just because the entire probate process can get so confusing! Having a reputable and experienced attorney available will ensure that all of the necessary steps are taken to carry out the probate process in the right way and that nothing is missed so that the estate of the deceased can be closed for good.
Are You In Need of a Probate Attorney?
If you are facing probate in Florida, and need experienced legal representation to help you through the process, Weidner Law can help. Just pick up the phone and call our office today at 727-954-8752 and we’ll set you up with a consultation at a time that’s convenient for you.