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Probate Formal Administration vs. Summary Administration: What’s the Difference?

Posted by Jane F. Bolin, Esq. | Feb 03, 2021 | 0 Comments

While both are forms of probate, formal administration and summary administration have a few important differences.

Key takeaways

  • What is formal administration?
  • What is summary administration?
  • How are they different and why does it matter?
  • How can an attorney help with probate?

A person's estate may enter probate after their death, though it's not always necessary, and certain assets may not go through the probate process. In Florida, the estate will not enter probate if the deceased didn't leave any real estate behind and their only assets either don't exceed final expenses or are exempt from being claimed by creditors.

Formal administration refers to the regular probate process that can take months. In Florida, the law also allows for an alternative known as summary administration, in which probate is shortened and the estate is resolved faster. What are the key differences between these two processes? And why does it matter?

What is formal administration?

Formal administration is the standard probate process for estates after a person dies. The will usually names an executor of the estate, who begins the probate process with the court. The process is typically conducted by the court in the county where the deceased was living when they died.

The court issues a Letters of Administration document and the will is filed with the court so it can be proven valid. The court then supervises the estate distribution process, first paying off any debts and taxes and then giving the remaining assets to those named in the will. The probate process can take anywhere from six months to a year, though that can vary.

Probate can quickly become complicated and lengthy if a beneficiary or heir objects and wants to challenge the will. For example, a beneficiary could claim that they deserve certain assets even though they weren't named in the will.

Because the process can take a long time, it isn't always necessary for smaller or less complicated estates. One way around it is through summary administration 

What is summary administration?

Summary administration is an abbreviated probate process that helps family members and loved ones avoid the lengthier, traditional legal process. This alternative is generally only available in Florida if:

  • The estate is $75,000 or less in value (excluding non-probate assets, discussed below), and
  • The deceased person's debts are paid or the creditors do not object

Summary administration is also an option if the deceased person died more than two years prior and there has been no administration thus far.

Non-probate assets include:

  • Those for which the deceased designated a beneficiary
  • Those that are held in a living trust
  • Property that is held in joint tenancy

For example, a retirement account with a designated beneficiary or a house owned by a married couple would be non-probate assets.

In general, probate assets include bank and investment accounts, life insurance policies, and property. 

Key differences between formal and summary administration

The first and most important difference between regular probate and summary administration is that summary administration takes much less time to resolve an estate. This option exists so that smaller estates can be handled quickly, saving time for the courts and the heirs. 

It's also worth noting that summary administration is often less costly because the estate is generally smaller. Florida law outlines the specific attorney fees associated with probate, and the larger the estate, the more representation costs. 

For example, an estate with a value up to $40,000 will pay an attorney $1,500, while an estate of $2 million will pay $3,000 plus 2.5% of the value over $1 million.

In summary administration, the executor or someone inheriting assets will file a petition for summary administration with the court, which must be signed by the surviving spouse, if applicable. This document states that the estate qualifies for the alternate probate process and all assets are listed with the estate's value. 

An estate executor or administrator is not appointed by the court in summary administration, as is necessary in formal administration. The court simply gives an order that releases assets to the applicable beneficiaries.

How can an attorney help with probate?

If you're faced with managing the estate of a deceased loved one, getting help from an attorney is a must. Probate attorneys will oversee the process and ensure you're taking all necessary and practical steps to resolve and distribute assets according to the will. An attorney will help you understand if the estate qualifies for summary administration or if the formal probate process will be required. 

Work with the experienced team of attorneys at PeytonBolin when you're dealing with an estate. We also help clients with real estate and HOA law, and are committed to finding a resolution quickly and effectively. 

Contact PeytonBolin to schedule a phone consultation today, and get the help you need to get through probate.

About the Author

Jane F. Bolin, Esq.

Founding Member, Managing Partner


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