CMH Blog Series:
Tips for Minimizing Probate Costs and Delays
After the loss of a loved one, many family members are shocked to learn of the responsibilities and requirements of being named a personal representative of a deceased’s last will and testament. They are also alarmed to hear the amount of time it may take for the estate to move through the probate process. Florida law requires estates over a certain monetary value to use an attorney for probate administration. However, you can take steps now with your estate plan to make the process simpler for your personal representative.
A personal representative is the individual you predetermine to be responsible for handling the administration of your estate after you pass. This person is often a spouse or close family member that you trust to responsibly manage your affairs after your death, primarily distributing your assets and debts in accordance with your wishes expressed through a last will and testament.
Tip #1 in the series to help the personal representative of your estate after your passing:
Make sure your personal representative knows where your will and personal information is stored.
All the time, care, and money you have spent planning your estate and ensuring loved ones have been cared for may be wasted if you don’t disclose where your last will and testament is before your passing. If the will or other important estate planning documents (such as the living will or health care surrogate) cannot be located, it could cause serious problems and delays in handling your estate. In the worst case scenario the court could proceed intestate – that is, proceed as if you died with no will at all.
To prevent this undesirable outcome, choose a personal representative (and successor personal representative) that you trust to discretely read the contents of your will (if desired) and know where your document(s) is located in the event of your death. No one else, named in the will or otherwise, needs to know where the will is or that it even exists unless you desire for them to know. In fact, one of the best places you can store your last will and testament is with your trusted personal representative themselves.
Although storing the will in a safe-deposit box or with your attorney may seem like a sound strategy, it could cause unintended issues for your personal representative as time passes and is not recommended. Even if your personal representative has access to the safe-deposit box and knows where it is located, banks may restrict access upon your death. The personal representative would then have to begin the probate process before being granted access to the box, further complicating the process.
Problems may also occur if you store the last will and testament with your attorney. It is not uncommon for attorneys to dissolve law firms or for specific attorneys to move firms. Even if you take the proactive step of introducing your personal representative to your attorney and inform them that the will is located at a law firm, it may not be properly secured as time passes.
A common, safe option for storing the last will and testament is a fireproof home safe. However, make certain that you inform your personal representative of where the safe is located and provide them with a key or access code.