Florida is unique in that many of our residents split their time between our state and other parts of the country during the warmer months. As such, “snowbirds” (or even their families), may find themselves dealing with an exceptionally challenging problem during the current COVID crisis, and that’s dealing with multiple probate procedures after the loss of a loved one.
Probate is a court process that’s required to legally administer assets and close out a person’s estate after their death. Even if a person has a will, probate is still required as the judge must ensure the will is valid and make sure that assets are distributed according to the wishes set forth in the will. Only property that’s included in a properly funded living trust can avoid probate, as can any account with a beneficiary designation (such as life insurance or retirement accounts) or those that are held jointly with rights of survivorship.
The problem is that probate is required in each state where the person owns assets—be it a vacation home, timeshare, car, boat, or financial accounts. Dealing with multiple probates is difficult enough for families… and the delays and closures related to COVID-19 have only complicated matters further. Many courts are still closed or operating on limited hours, state agencies are backlogged and working short-staffed, and banks in other states are still closed to walk-in visits.
Our best recommendation, if you are facing multiple probates during the loss of a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis, is to consider working with an experienced attorney right from the start. Ideally, you’ll want your probate attorney here in Florida and the attorney you are using in the home state coordinating if possible so that the process goes smoothly and with minimal headaches.
If your loved one did not leave behind a Last Will and Testament, your attorney can also help you determine what to expect based on the laws of intestacy which dictate “who inherits what.” The problem with out-of-state probate cases is that every state has different laws of intestacy, meaning the heirs in one state may not be the same in another. This can be a messy situation, which is why it’s important to work with an attorney to save time and money while working to limit any potential family drama.
Finally, if you have a loved one who is ill and you are concerned about dealing with multiple probates during this time, there are still ways that you can avoid the process. Again, some techniques include placing the property into a Revocable Living Trust, transferring property into a jointly-held account, or drafting a real property deed where the property is transferred upon death. But keep in mind – this type of planning must be done prior to death, and these techniques must be legal in the state where the property is held.
If you need help with an out-of-state probate case or would like to plan to avoid out-of-state probate proceedings, please contact our Hillsborough County probate lawyers at (813) 438-8503 to set up a consultation.