WILLS AND PROBATE
1. What is a will?
A last will and testament is a document that states who is to receive the assets of a deceased person (the decedent). Of all the legal documents prepared by lawyers, wills still require the most formality in signing. Wills not signed in accordance with the requirements of Florida law are void. Florida residents must sign wills at the end of the document in the presence of at least two witnesses who are both present at the same time and place with the testator (person making the will). Also, wills are usually signed in front of a notary public in addition to the witnesses so that the will is “self-proving” in case of death. Self-proving wills can be admitted to probate after the death of the testator without having the witnesses come to the courthouse.
The testator should keep the will in a safe place because it must be presented to the court at the time of death. A copy of the will may not be admitted to probate (except in unusual circumstances). Copies of the will should be available without having to gain access to a safe deposit box, as that may require a court order. The copy should identify where the original is held. The will cannot be deposited with the Probate Court before death.
2. What is a personal representative?
The personal representative is the person or company appointed to administer the affairs of a decedent’s estate.
The will may name nonresidents as personal representatives only if they are the testator’s parent or child or other close relative.
3. What is probate?
Florida law requires a court proceeding called “probate” upon the death of an individual if the individual owns any assets. The probate court action is the law’s way of assembling the decedent’s assets, paying debts and taxes, and passing title to the decedent’s beneficiaries. Many of the perceived problems in probate have been eliminated in Florida. For example, the inventory of assets owned by the decedent is now seal.