Knowing which assets are exempt from probate in Florida can help you estate plan optimally, to help your loved ones avoid the stressful, long and often expensive probate process.
It can also help you if a loved one has recently passed away and you need to know what will happen to their assets next.
Probate Exempt Assets Explained
Probate is the legal process of proving a will and ensuring that assets are distributed properly to heirs, beneficiaries and creditor claims.
Many assets require probate, especially if there is no named beneficiary. However, there are ways to avoid probate such as by using trusts or naming beneficiaries. Florida law also allows for some legally exempt assets, such as Florida homesteads.
While this can serve as an introductory guide, please consult a reputable Florida estate planning attorney when making plans regarding probate (such as wills and trusts), so that you can ensure your family isn’t left with nasty surprises.
Read related: Complete Guide to Navigating Florida Probate
What Assets Avoid Probate in Florida?
Revocable Trusts take ownership of the assets so that the deceased person is no longer the owner of the assets of the trust. Therefore, the trust and its contents avoid probate.
Assets that have named and designated beneficiaries set up to inherit the asset (after the owner’s death), will avoid probate. However, probate will still be required if the estate itself is one of the beneficiaries.
Transfer on Death Accounts
Some financial accounts allow the owner to designate a beneficiary who will receive the asset automatically, upon the owner’s death. In this case, no probate is required.
Banks, life insurance policies and credit unions are common examples. But it can also include retirement funds, boats and saving bonds. Joint-held accounts will also allow the surviving owner to take full ownership, bypassing probate.
Joint Retirement Accounts
Joint retirement accounts are typically full to the surviving owner who gains the choice to proceed with the existing contract or set up a new one. Alternatively, a designated beneficiary may inherit the asset.
Tenancy By Entireties
Surviving spouses automatically become owners of jointly owned assets, such as a home or vehicles. Known as ‘Tenancy by Entireties’, these are probate-exempt assets in Florida.
If the asset is inherited by someone else through a will, then these assets must go through probate.
Your primary residence is called a ‘homestead’ and is not generally subject to probate. That’s because Florida homesteads are exempt property to creditor claims. Title to a homestead should be relatively quick and easy, with no need to wait for the long and stressful probate process.
The only requirement is that the property must have been the decedent owner’s primary residence, and it must not have been abandoned. They can still leave the property temporarily, but return or intend to return to the property as their home. Relocating due to illness is not usually considered abandonment.
However, the personal representative of the estate will likely still need to obtain a court order, especially if the family plans to sell the property.
Furniture and Appliances
Assets exempt from probate in Florida also include household furniture, belongings and assets in the deceased’s primary residence that are valued up to $20,000.
Motor vehicles owned by the decedent that were used regularly (and weighing no more than 15,000 pounds) each are assets exempt from probate in Florida.
Some tuition programs that qualify under IRS Code, Section 529, and some educator death benefits may be exempt from probate in Florida.
What Assets Must Pass Through Probate in Florida?
Assets where the only named owner is the decedent individual and are not subject to a trust must pass through probate. These include:
- Stocks and bonds
- Investment and bank accounts
- Cars, boats and airplanes
- Real estate
- Other personal property
Are Household Items Exempt from Probate in Florida?
Many people ask us if their loved one’s household items and belongings are exempt from probate in Florida. Generally, the answer is yes. Clothing, artwork, furniture and jewelry will likely have to pass through probate even if they don’t have a high value.
If included in a valid will, the distribution process should be fairly simple.
Ways to Avoid Probate in Florida
To avoid probate in Florida, you can make use of some legal routes while estate planning with a Florida probate attorney.
- Creating a living trust and placing assets in it.
- Appointing a joint owner of an asset.
- Listing a beneficiary for a transfer-on-death asset.
- Add payable-on-death designations.
- Gift your assets so that you no longer own them, but those who you’d like to inherit them now do.
Does a Will Avoid Probate in Florida?
No, a will does not mean that all your assets are exempt from probate.
While a will does clearly state the wishes of the creator, it is not self-implementing like a trust. Every will must be reviewed and proofed by the local probate court.
In some cases, using a will only may still be the best option for you. But in large families, with many assets, high-value assets or creditor claims, you should consider routes to avoiding probate.
How Do I Start the Probate Process in Florida?
If you’ve been designated as the personal representative for an estate in Florida, you will need to file documents with the local probate court.
Once you’ve filed a petition for administration and signed an oath of acceptance, the process begins.
We highly advise that you contact a Florida probate attorney, who can guide you through the complicated process, ensuring you do not make costly mistakes that damage yourself, the estate and the beneficiaries.
Read Related: 10 Reasons to Hire a Probate Attorney
Contact a Florida Probate Attorney Today
If you’re looking to make your assets exempt from probate in Florida, our Florida probate attorneys can help. We regularly help Florida families with estate planning so that they don’t have to face grueling probate processes. We understand probate law can seem complicated, which is why we love to take the strain off families like you.
Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A. is U.S. News and World Reports Tier 1 law firm in Florida, specializing in Estate Planning & Probate since 1958. With award-winning experienced attorneys, they can help you set up an estate plan that avoids probate and protects your family’s wealth.
Schedule a free consultation today to get started or to get any questions answered.