Estate Planning & Probate

Estate Planning

Do I Need Estate Planning?

Growing older can be challenging. Our experienced attorneys offer a compassionate and personalized approach to help you plan for the future. At our firm we compassionately serve our clients in the toughest of times. We believe in careful planning and proactive solutions to help our clients overcome the challenges and issues associated with getting older. We understand that many people are reluctant to meet with an elder law or estate planning attorney because thinking about their own mortality can be uncomfortable. However, a well-drafted estate plan can bring peace of mind to both the elderly person and their loved ones.

Estate planning is your chance to shape the future for yourself, your loved ones and causes that are important to you. It allows you to make choices about your future placement and care, about how your assets will be managed if you can’t manage them yourself, and allows you to determine how your loved ones and preferred charities will be provided for after your death.

Estate planning encompasses much more than just a last will and testament. Depending on your circumstances, you may need to consider multiple documents to ensure your wishes are carried out should you become sick or disabled or pass away. Our attorneys can address the following issues with you as they pertain to your circumstances and needs:

  • Wills
  • Trusts
  • Living wills (healthcare directives)
  • Powers of attorney
  • Special needs planning
  • Pet Planning
  • Asset protection
  • Medicaid Planning
  • Veterans Benefits Planning
  • Gifting
  • Probate and trust administration

Often clients come to us with challenging legal problems that could have been minimized if careful estate planning (including at a minimum a durable power of attorney, designation of a health care surrogate, and a last will and testament) had been put in place years before. Don’t wait until it is too late. Let the experienced, compassionate attorneys at Stokes Law Firm help you draft an estate plan tailored to your unique situation.

Probate Attorney in St. Petersburg
The death of a loved one is a difficult and challenging time. We can help make this difficult time easier for you by guiding you through the probate process. We understand Florida probate law and are ready to provide you with dedicated and compassionate legal representation.

What is Probate?

In simple terms, probate is the legal process for distributing an individual’s property after death.  After death, it may be necessary for a court to oversee the distribution of the decedent’s assets. Probate is the process for determining heirs, paying creditors, and distributing assets.

If there is a will, the personal representative will typically initiate probate. During this process, a probate court will validate the will and authorize the personal representative to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries as the deceased instructed, as well as pay any estate debts and taxes the estate may owe.

If there is no will, a further administrative proceeding will be held to determine how the estate will be divided. In this case, the court will name an administrator (personal representative) for the estate, usually the nearest relative of the deceased, who then follows the probate judge’s instructions on how to distribute the property.

How long does the probate process take?

It depends on the facts of each situation. For example, the personal representative may need to sell real estate before settling the probate estate or resolve a disputed claim filed by a creditor or a lawsuit filed to challenge the validity of the will. Any of these circumstances could lengthen the amount of time needed to close the estate.  Even the simplest of probate estates must be open for at least the three-month creditor claim period; it is reasonable to expect that a simple probate estate will take about five or six months to properly handle.

Why should I avoid probate?

There are many reasons for wanting to avoid probate.  Here are some common complaints regarding probate.

  • Time. It can be slow. In some cases, it can take years for a probate court to finalize an estate, especially if it’s complicated or involves a contested will.
  • Cost. It can be very expensive.  Costs vary from state to state, but probate generally entails executor fees, attorney costs and other administrative expenses, such as appraiser’s fees. In some cases, these charges can accumulate quickly.
  • Lack of privacy. Since it is a state legal proceeding, much of the material in the probate process goes into the public record.
  • Family conflict/squabbles:  If a will is contested, your heirs will have to go to court and retain lawyers. The probate judge will appoint an administrator, and they will meet with lawyers to discover who has a valid claim. At this point, it is like any other court proceeding with witnesses, evidence, and testimony.

How to avoid probate?

Contrary to what many people think, wills do not avoid probate.   A will provides your instructions, but it does not avoid probate. Probate means to prove, as in for example, prove the will is valid.   Assets passing to heirs via a will (testate) or without a will (intestate) will need to go through probate. If you want to avoid the time and expense of probate, there are steps you can take.

Estate Administration

The probate attorneys at Stokes Law Firm can guide personal representatives, trustees, family members, and beneficiaries in fulfilling their responsibilities to the deceased while protecting the involved parties’ rights throughout the entire probate process.  Entrusting our lawyers to manage the details and complexities of estate administration, allows you to focus on family and friends in a time of need.