May 22

Executor Checklist for Probate in Florida: Your Step-by-Step Guide


As an executor, managing the probate process in Florida can be a daunting task, especially if you're unfamiliar with the legal and administrative steps involved.

To help you, I created an executor checklist for probate in Florida that covers the essential steps, from initial arrangements to closing the estate. 

Whether you're a first-time executor or seeking to improve your understanding of the process, this checklist is designed to support you every step of the way.

Disclaimer: This guide is intended for informational purposes only, not as a substitute for professional legal advice. For specific guidance, consultation with a qualified attorney is recommended.

Understanding the Role of an Executor in Florida

Before I get into the executor checklist for probate, understand that your role as a personal administrator is crucial.

So, it's really important to get a handle on what's involved.

Briefly, here's a short list of your responsibilities as a Florida personal administrator.

Key Responsibilities of an Executor

  1. Fiduciary Duty: As an executor, you have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries. This means exercising care, loyalty, and diligence in managing the estate’s affairs.
  2. Locating and Reviewing the Will: Your first task is to locate the decedent’s original will and any amendments or codicils.
  3. Filing the Will with the Court: Once you have the will, you must file it with the Clerk of the Circuit Court in the county where the decedent resided. This step officially starts the probate process.
  4. Identifying and Securing Assets: It's essential to identify, locate, and secure all of the decedent’s assets, including real estate, personal property, bank accounts, investments, and valuable items. This helps prevent loss or theft and ensures that assets are accounted for during probate.
  5. Notifying Beneficiaries and Heirs: You're responsible for informing all beneficiaries named in the will and any legal heirs of the decedent’s passing and the commencement of the probate process.
  6. Managing Estate Finances: Open an estate bank account to handle incoming funds and expenses related to the estate. This account will be used to pay debts, taxes, and other obligations.
  7. Paying Debts and Taxes: You must ensure that all valid debts and taxes owed by the estate are paid. This includes final medical bills, funeral expenses, outstanding loans, and applicable taxes.
  8. Distributing Assets: After settling debts and taxes, you distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as specified in the will or by state law if there is no will.
  9. Filing Final Reports: At the end of the probate process, you're required to provide a detailed accounting of the estate’s transactions to the court and beneficiaries. This includes all income received, expenses paid, and distributions made.
  10. Closing the Estate: Once all duties are fulfilled, you petition the court to close the estate and be formally discharged from your role as executor.

First Step In Executor Checklist for Probate

Initiating probate process in florida

1. Locate the Will

The first crucial step in initiating probate is to locate the original will and any codicils (amendments) that the decedent may have left behind.

If the decedent did not leave a will, the estate will be administered according to Florida’s intestacy laws, which dictate how the assets will be distributed to the heirs.

2. Engage a Probate Attorney

In most circumstances, you'll need to seek the services of a probate attorney.

A probate attorney can guide you through the legal requirements and help you navigate the various tasks involved.

Their expertise ensures that you comply with all legal obligations and can efficiently manage the estate’s administration.

Did You Know?

There are two types of probate administration in Florida - Formal and Summary. If you have an estate worth less than $75,000, you may be able to save time and money by filing for Summary Administration.

3. File the Petition for Administration

To formally start the probate process, you must file a petition for administration with the probate court in the county where the deceased resided.

This petition asks the court to open the probate estate and appoint you as the personal representative.

Along with the petition, you will need to submit the original will (if one exists) and a certified copy of the death certificate.

Additionally, be prepared to pay the necessary filing fee.

4. Obtain Letters of Administration

Once the court reviews your petition and appoints you as the personal representative, you will be issued letters of administration.

These letters are a formal document from the court granting you legal authority to manage and administer the decedent’s estate.

With these letters, you can take actions such as accessing the decedent’s financial accounts, managing their assets, and distributing property according to the will or intestacy laws.

Notify Interested Parties

executor to notify interested parties

5. Notify Beneficiaries and Heirs

Once you have obtained the letters of administration, your next step in this executor checklist for probate is to notify all beneficiaries named in the will and any heirs according to Florida’s intestacy laws if there's no will.

This formal notification serves to inform them of the probate proceedings and their potential interest in the estate.

6. Notify Creditors

Florida law requires that creditors of the deceased be notified of the probate proceedings to allow them to file claims against the estate for any outstanding debts.

This involves two steps:

  • Publishing a Notice to Creditors: You must publish a notice to creditors in a local newspaper in the county where the probate is being administered. This public notice must run for a specified period (typically two consecutive weeks) to provide creditors with the opportunity to come forward.
  • Direct Notification to Known Creditors: In addition to the public notice, you must directly notify any known creditors by mail. This includes sending a formal notice to all creditors you are aware of, informing them of the decedent’s death and the probate proceedings. Creditors typically have 90 days from the date of the first publication to file their claims.

Inventory & Appraisal of Assets

Inventory & Appraisal of Probate Assets

7. Identify and Secure Assets

As the personal representative, one of your primary duties is to locate, identify, and secure all of the deceased’s assets.

This includes real estate, bank accounts, investments, personal property, and digital assets.

Securing the assets involves taking control of them to prevent loss or theft.

For instance, you might need to change the locks on the decedent’s home, secure valuable personal property, and ensure that financial accounts are properly managed.

Additionally, you should open a separate estate bank account where you will handle all financial transactions related to the estate.

8. Prepare an Inventory

Once you've secured the assets, the next step is to prepare a detailed inventory of the estate.

This inventory should include all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death.

You need to document each asset's description, value, and any relevant details.

This inventory must be filed with the probate court within 60 days of your appointment as the personal representative. 

9. Appraise the Assets

Certain assets, particularly real estate and valuable personal property, may require a formal appraisal to determine their fair market value at the time of death - especially if you end up selling the assets.

Hiring professional appraisers ensures that the values are accurate and can withstand scrutiny by the court and beneficiaries. 

Managing and Protecting The Estate

FL executor checklist - protect estate

10. Manage Estate Finances

As the personal representative, you're responsible for managing the estate's finances during the probate process. 

This includes collecting any income the estate generates, such as dividends, interest, rent, or other sources of revenue.

You must also pay ongoing expenses, such as mortgage payments, utility bills, and property maintenance costs.

All financial transactions should be conducted through the estate bank account to ensure clear and accurate record-keeping.

11. Keep Detailed Records

Maintaining meticulous records of all transactions and actions taken on behalf of the estate is crucial.

This includes keeping receipts, bank statements, correspondence, and any other documentation related to the estate’s administration.

Detailed records are necessary for preparing accurate accounting for the court and beneficiaries and for defending your actions if they're questioned.

12. Lock and Secure All Real Estate and Household Contents

Ensuring the security of all real estate and household contents is a critical task.

Change locks if necessary, secure valuable items, and take inventory of household contents.

This step helps prevent unauthorized access and potential theft or damage to the decedent's property.

13. Engage CPA or Accountant and Determine Deadlines for Filing Tax Returns

Hiring a CPA or accountant can help you manage the financial aspects of the estate, particularly regarding tax matters.

Work with the CPA to determine deadlines for filing the decedent’s final income tax return, the estate’s income tax return, and any necessary estate tax returns.

Proper tax management is essential to avoid penalties and ensure compliance with tax laws.

14. Contact Decedent’s Financial Advisor

If the decedent had a financial advisor, it's beneficial to contact them for assistance.

The financial advisor can provide valuable information about the decedent’s investments, retirement accounts, and other financial matters.

Their insights can help you make informed decisions regarding the management and liquidation of assets.

15. Order a Minimum of 10 Death Certificates

Obtaining multiple copies of the death certificate is necessary for handling various aspects of the probate process.

Death certificates are required for closing bank accounts, transferring assets, claiming life insurance, and addressing other administrative tasks.

Typically, these can be ordered through the funeral home or the local health department.

16. Calendar Important Dates for Tax Filings

Keeping track of important tax filing deadlines is crucial.

Create a calendar to note the due dates for the decedent’s final 1040 tax return, the estate’s income tax return, and, if applicable, the Form 706 estate tax return.

Timely filing of these returns is essential to avoid penalties and interest.

17. Buy a Notebook to Track Time and Work on Behalf of the Estate

Keeping a detailed log of your time and the tasks you perform on behalf of the estate is important.

This log can help justify your compensation as a personal representative and provide a record of your efforts for beneficiaries who may not fully understand the extent of your duties.

18. Complete Master Information List

Create a comprehensive inventory of all the decedent’s assets, including how they are titled and any beneficiary designations.

This list should include bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate, vehicles, personal property, and digital assets.

A master information list helps ensure that no assets are overlooked and that all are properly managed and distributed.

19. Set Up Accounting Program

Although a detailed Excel spreadsheet could work, using accounting software such as Quicken or QuickBooks can greatly assist in managing the estate’s finances. 

These programs help track income, expenses, and distributions, making it easier to prepare accurate accounting for the court and beneficiaries. 

If you're not proficient with accounting software, consider hiring a bookkeeper or accountant.

20. Deposit Will with the Clerk of Court

Florida law requires that the original Will be filed with the Clerk of Court within 10 days of the decedent’s death. 

Filing the will promptly is important for beginning the probate process and ensuring that the court recognizes the document.

21. Advise Post Office to Forward Mail

Notify the post office to forward the decedent’s mail to your address. 

This helps ensure that you receive all important correspondence related to the estate, including bills, financial statements, and notices from creditors.

22. Cancel Utilities and Subscriptions

Identify and cancel any unnecessary utilities and subscriptions to minimize ongoing expenses.

This may include cable, internet, magazine subscriptions, and other services that the decedent no longer needs.

23. Contact Homeowner's Insurance and Keep It Current

Ensure that the homeowner’s insurance policy on any real estate remains current to protect the property from potential loss.

If the home is vacant, it's very important to let the insurance company know of that. 

There is a different type of coverage that covers vacant properties.

24. Contact Homeowner Association and Keep Payments Current

If the decedent owned property in a community with a homeowner's association (HOA), notify the HOA of the death and ensure that all dues and assessments are paid to avoid penalties or liens on the property.

25. Inventory Safe Deposit Box

If the decedent had a safe deposit box, inventory its contents with at least one witness present.

Consult with your probate attorney before accessing the box to ensure compliance with legal requirements and proper documentation of its contents.

26. Search Records for Potential Creditors

Conduct a thorough search of the decedent’s records to identify potential creditors.

This includes reviewing bank statements, credit card statements, medical bills, and other financial documents.

Identifying all creditors helps ensure that their claims are addressed appropriately.

27. Keep Current Payments to Legally Valid Secured Creditors

Ensure that payments to legally valid secured creditors, such as mortgage lenders and car loan providers, are kept current.

This helps prevent foreclosure, repossession, and other legal actions against the estate.

28. Determine if Any Employee Benefits

Investigate whether the decedent had any employee benefits, such as retirement accounts, pension plans, or health savings accounts.

Contact the decedent’s employer or benefits administrator to understand how to claim these benefits for the estate.

29. Contact Health Care Providers Regarding Medicare Assignments

Reach out to the decedent’s health care providers to determine if they have accepted Medicare assignments for their services.

If they have, they should not file claims against the estate for any unpaid portions of their statements.

30. Notify Social Security Administration and Bank About Decedent's Death

Inform the Social Security Administration (SSA) of the decedent’s death to stop any future payments.

Also, notify the bank where Social Security payments were being deposited.

The SSA may require repayment of benefits paid for the month of death or thereafter.

31. Make a Claim for Social Security Death Benefits, if Applicable

If the decedent has enough work credits and is survived by a spouse or dependent child, they may be entitled to a one-time Social Security death benefit.

Contact the SSA to apply for this benefit.

32. Determine if There Are Any Claims for Life Insurance or Veteran Death Benefits

Identify any life insurance policies or veteran benefits the decedent may have been entitled to.

Contact the relevant agencies or insurance companies to file claims and obtain the benefits for the estate or beneficiaries.

Paying Debts & Expenses

executor probate checklist - pay debts

33. Review and Pay Claims

Another important duty as the personal representative is to review and pay the decedent’s debts and expenses. 

Follow these steps:

  • Evaluate Creditor Claims: Verify the legitimacy of each claim. This may require reviewing contracts, invoices, and other supporting documents. Consult with your probate attorney if you have doubts about any claims.
  • Prioritize Claims: Florida law specifies the order in which debts should be paid. Typically, administrative expenses, funeral costs, and secured debts are paid first, followed by other claims.
  • Pay Valid Claims: Once you have determined that a claim is valid and prioritized it appropriately, pay it from the estate’s funds. Document each payment carefully to ensure transparency and accuracy.
  • Contest Invalid Claims: If you believe a claim is invalid, you have the right to contest it. Notify the creditor in writing of your intention to dispute the claim. Be prepared to provide evidence to support your position, and work with your probate attorney to resolve any disputes.

Filing Taxes

34. File Final Income Tax Returns

You must file the decedent’s final federal and state income tax returns for the year of their death.

These returns cover the period from January 1 until the date of death.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Gather Tax Documents: Collect all necessary tax documents, including W-2s, 1099s, and records of income and expenses.
  • Prepare the Final Return: Work with a CPA or tax professional to prepare the decedent’s final income tax return accurately. Ensure that all sources of income and allowable deductions are included.
  • File the Return: Submit the final income tax return by the applicable deadline. The deadline is usually April 15 of the year following the decedent’s death.
  • Pay Any Taxes Owed: If the final return shows that taxes are owed, pay them from the estate’s funds. Document the payment and keep a copy of the filed return for your records.

35. File Estate Tax Returns (if applicable)

If the value of the decedent’s estate exceeds the federal estate tax exemption amount, you may need to file a federal estate tax return (Form 706).

Follow these steps:

  • Determine If Filing Is Required: The federal estate tax exemption amount can change annually. Check the current exemption threshold to determine if the estate exceeds this amount.
  • Gather Asset Valuations: Collect appraisals and valuations for all estate assets. Accurate valuations are essential for preparing the estate tax return.
  • Prepare Form 706: Work with a CPA or tax professional to prepare Form 706. This form reports the value of the estate’s assets and calculates any estate taxes owed.
  • File the Return: Submit Form 706 by the applicable deadline, usually nine months after the decedent’s death. If necessary, request an extension to ensure you have enough time to complete the form accurately.
  • Pay Any Estate Taxes Owed: If the return shows that estate taxes are owed, pay them from the estate’s funds. Keep documentation of the payment and the filed return for your records.

Distribute The Assets

36. Obtain Court Approval (if required)

Before distributing the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries, you may need to obtain court approval.

This step ensures that the distribution plan is reviewed and sanctioned by the probate court, particularly in cases involving complex estates or disputes among beneficiaries.

Here’s how to proceed:

  • Prepare the Distribution Plan: Outline how the estate’s assets will be distributed according to the will or Florida’s intestacy laws.
  • Submit the Plan to the Court: File the distribution plan with the probate court. Provide detailed documentation to support your proposed distribution.
  • Obtain Court Approval: Attend a court hearing if necessary. The judge will review the plan and any objections from interested parties. Once the court approves the plan, you can proceed with distributing the assets.

37. Distribute Assets

Once you have court approval (if required), you can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

Follow these steps:

  • Prepare Receipts for Beneficiaries: Document each distribution by having the beneficiaries sign receipts acknowledging their share of the estate.
  • Distribute the Assets: Transfer the assets to the beneficiaries according to the distribution plan. This may involve transferring ownership of real estate, distributing funds from the estate account, and handing over personal property.
  • Document the Distributions: Keep detailed records of all distributions, including dates, amounts, and the recipients. This documentation is crucial for final accounting and for addressing any future questions or disputes.

Closing The Estate

38. Prepare Final Accounting

Before you can close the estate, you must prepare a final accounting that details all financial transactions conducted during the probate process.

This accounting provides a comprehensive record of income, expenses, and distributions.

Here’s what you'll need:

  • Compile Financial Records: Gather all financial records, including bank statements, receipts, invoices, and documentation of distributions.
  • Prepare the Accounting: Create a detailed report that lists all transactions, including the initial inventory, income received, expenses paid, and distributions made to beneficiaries.
  • File the Accounting with the Court: Submit the final accounting to the probate court for review. Provide copies to all beneficiaries and interested parties.

39. Resolve Disputes

Hopefully, there aren't any disputes or objections amongst the beneficiaries.

However, if there are, you'll want to address them before closing the estate. 

This may involve mediation, negotiation, or court hearings to resolve the issues.

Definitely make sure that all parties are satisfied or that disputes are resolved according to the court’s directives.

40. Petition for Discharge

Once the final accounting is approved and all disputes are resolved, file a petition for discharge with the probate court.

This is important because it releases you from your duties as the personal representative.

41. Distribute Remaining Funds

Before closing the estate, ensure that any remaining funds are distributed according to the court-approved plan.

Pay any final expenses, fees, and distributions to beneficiaries.

Document these final transactions carefully.

42. Close Estate Bank Account

After all distributions and payments have been made, close the estate bank account.

Make sure that no further transactions occur once the account is closed.

43. Maintain Records

Keep copies of all records related to the estate, including the final accounting, court documents, and receipts for distributions.

You'll want to keep these records for future reference and to address any questions or issues that may arise after the estate is closed.

Final Thoughts

Successfully navigating the probate process as a personal representative in Florida requires careful attention to detail, thorough organization, and a commitment to fulfilling your fiduciary duties.

By following this executor checklist for probate in FL, you can ensure all necessary steps are taken to manage and protect the estate.

Seek Professional Assistance

Probate can be a complex and emotionally challenging process, particularly during a time of grief.

It's highly advisable to seek the guidance of a probate attorney and other professionals, such as CPAs, financial advisors, and real estate agents to ensure that you fulfill your duties accurately and efficiently.

Their expertise can provide valuable support and peace of mind throughout the probate process.

If you need assistance with managing the probate process in the Tampa, FL area, or have questions about the probate process, please do not hesitate to reach out.

As a real estate agent, I play a crucial role in helping personal representatives manage and sell probate properties.

My expertise in the local market, combined with my understanding of the probate process, can help personal representatives make informed decisions, maximize the value of estate assets, and ensure a smooth transition for beneficiaries.


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