Probate is the process of administering, organizing and sorting a person’s estate after he or she dies. In cases where the person leaves a will, he or she is said to have died testate; without a will, the decedent is intestate. Florida law governs the probate process either way, and the probate court will administer, supervise and distribute the estate. Typically, the executor of the estate is named in the will.

If an executor is not named in the will, one will be appointed by the probate court. Probate begins when the executor puts forth the will for probate. The will should be probated with the court where the decedent owned real property or lived. The time required to complete the probate process varies from case to case, depending on factors like the number of debts and taxes outstanding, the number of heirs, the size of the estate and whether the will is being contested. The probate process is usually complete within 24 months after the date the person dies. In cases where the will is contested or there are lawsuits associated with probate, the process could take several years or decades.

The first few months include preparing and filing a petition for probate, choosing an executor, proving the will is valid and identifying heirs. Letters testamentary, letters of administration or orders for probate, liabilities and duties might be issued.

When a will goes through probate in Florida, legal assistance may be warranted. A lawyer might examine the facts of the case and help heirs determine what they are entitled to inherit or identify ways the estate plan may be challenged in probate court. If heirs want to challenge the validity of a will, a lawyer might be able to help with that as well.