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Probate vs. Trust Administration

Michael A. Siefert, P.A. Sept. 20, 2023

Happy old couple re-viewing their estate plan Probate and trust administration are vital estate administration procedures that are often required when a loved one dies or becomes incapacitated. During probate, the decedent's assets are gathered and evaluated, taxes and debts are paid, and the remaining assets are distributed to rightful beneficiaries.

Conversely, in trust administration, the trustee will administer the trust — and distribute trust property to beneficiaries — in accordance with the provisions and instructions of the trust document. 

At Michael A. Siefert, P.A., I'm committed to providing detailed guidance and advocacy to clients in estate administration-related matters. As a dedicated Florida estate planning attorney, I educate you about the probate and trust administration process and how they affect your surviving loved ones. My firm proudly serves clients across Ocala and Marion County, Florida. 

What is Probate?

Probate is a court-supervised process that is often needed when someone dies to settle their estate and final affairs. During probate, the executor will collect and evaluate the decedent's assets, pay taxes and debts, and distribute the remaining assets to rightful heirs and beneficiaries. If the person died intestate (without a will) the estate assets and property will be distributed in accordance with Florida's intestate succession laws. 

The Probate Process in Florida

To initiate the probate process in Florida, the named executor will file a Petition for Administration and other necessary documents with the local circuit court where the deceased person lived. To confirm the executor, the circuit court will issue "Letters of Administration" and allow the person to act on the estate's behalf. 

Role of the Executor or Administrator

Once appointed, the executor or administrator will perform the duties and responsibilities below: 

  • Collect and evaluate the decedent's assets and property. 

  • Take a detailed inventory of the decedent's estate. 

  • Notify heirs and beneficiaries named in the will. 

  • Inform creditors of the probate proceedings. 

  • Collect all decedent's income, including debts owed, dividends, rents, claims, and interests. 

  • Pay the valid claims and debts to creditors. 

  • Repay all debts, file, and pay estate taxes. 

  • Prepare and file the decedent's final income tax returns. 

  • File the final estate accounting. 

  • Transfer the remaining property and assets to rightful beneficiaries and heirs. 

  • File a petition to discharge the executor from their fiduciary position and end the estate administration. 

A dedicated probate lawyer can direct you through the probate process and help you navigate key decisions. 

Trust Administration

Trust administration involves several activities, tasks, and procedures that are often required to manage a trust and distribute trust assets to rightful beneficiaries. Upon the death or sudden incapacitation of the trustor, the named trustee or successor trustee will administer the trust in accordance with the provisions and instructions set forth in the trust document. 

The Trust Administration Process in Florida

Once the court appoints the trustee, here are some of the trust administration duties that the trustee must carry out: 

  • Identify beneficiaries of the trust property. 

  • Collect and assess trust assets. 

  • Administer the trust using the instructions set forth in the trust document. 

  • Pay all administrative fees and costs incurred during trust administration. 

  • Pay taxes and settle debts before transferring assets to beneficiaries. 

  • Handle all financial matters. 

  • Maintain detailed and accurate records of all tasks. 

  • Prepare and file final tax returns. 

  • Settle other tax-related issues. 

  • Set aside a reserve fund. This may be used for trust or estate administration-related expenses. 

A reliable trust administration attorney can walk you through the procedures involved and help you navigate key decisions. 

How Probate Affects Surviving Loved Ones

Here are some potential impacts that probate can have on your surviving loved ones: 

  • Probate is costly and may reduce the size and value of estate assets that will be available to heirs. 

  • All of your bank accounts and assets will be frozen until the probate is finalized. 

  • Probate is time-consuming, and it might take a really long time before beneficiaries receive their inheritance. 

  • The probate court will have control over how some of your property, assets, and debts are handled. 

  • Probate is a matter of public record, and this might affect the privacy of your final affairs and surviving loved ones. 

  • You may need to pay federal, state, inheritance, and estate taxes on your probate assets. 

How Trust Administration Affects Surviving Loved Ones

The following are some ways through which trust administration might affect your surviving loved ones: 

  • Establishing a trust can be a bit trickier and costlier upfront. However, they can help your estate and loved ones bypass the expensive and lengthy probate process. 

  • The trustee may mismanage the trust funds and assets. 

  • Also, not all trusts protect assets from creditors. Creditors can go after assets in a revocable trust to settle outstanding debts. 

An experienced lawyer can enlighten you about how probate or trust administration affects your loved ones and help you navigate crucial decisions at every step of the way. 

Let My Experience Guide You 

The probate and trust administration process in Florida often involves a lot of complexities. At Michael A. Siefert, P.A., I have the resources and knowledge to direct clients through the complicated procedures involved in estate administration. As your attorney, I can tell you about the benefits and drawbacks of wills and living trusts, fully explain the probate and trust administration process, and determine the right one for your unique circumstances. 

Contact me at Michael A. Siefert, P.A., today to schedule a simple consultation with a practiced estate planning lawyer. I have the trusted advocacy and legal guidance you need to make informed decisions in your estate planning. My firm proudly serves clients across Ocala and Marion County, Florida.