What Do I Do After My Spouse or Parent Has Passed?

Recently, at the Charlotte County Wellness Fair, I was asked the question:

Is there a list anywhere of the things I should do or must do after my spouse has passed? (Of course, this would also be a question that would apply if your parent has passed and you are named as the personal representative.)

In Florida, the following needs to be done:

Locate the Last Will and Testament – This has to be the original. In some cases, a copy will do, but it is a big production to get a copy accepted by the Court.
Obtain a Death Certificate – Certified copies are usually supplied by the funeral home, but if there is no funeral home, you may obtain certified copies from the Medical Examiner’s Office. There are two kinds of certified copies: (1) with the cause of death; and (2) without the cause of death. Make sure you get at least one with the cause of death, but also a few (three or so) of the one without cause of death.

Hire a Probate Attorney. Unless there is only one beneficiary and that beneficiary is named as personal representative, the Probate Court may insist that the Personal Representative be represented by an attorney. It may seem like a harsh and costly requirement, but the probate process is not simple and, inevitably, there will be issues that arise that are best dealt with by an attorney.

File the Death Certificate (without cause of death) and the original Will with the County Court in the County in which the deceased was a resident at the time he or she passed. If you have hired a Probate Attorney, he or she will do this for you. Some people think the person had to die in that county, but that is not usually the case. For example, if a person lived in Charlotte County, but died in Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota County, the Will, and Death Certificate should be filed in Charlotte County.

There are three types of estate administration in Florida – one is Summary Administration which is for small estates (generally under $75,000); one is Formal Administration (estates over $75,000), and then Disposition Without Administration – which is available in very limited estates. The Attorney will advise the Personal Representative which of these needs to be filed.
The Personal Representative will then collect all of the estate property, real estate and personal property, collect all information available about bills owed by the decedent, serve notice on the creditors of the decedent of the administration, pay valid claims, personal representative and attorneys fees, file tax returns, sell property, distribute specific bequests, and proceed toward a final distribution of the estate. Again, the Probate Attorney will assist the Personal Representative in all of these matters.

Depending on the value of the estate and the amount of real estate and personal items owned, the administration of the estate from start to finish can be as short as a few months or as long as a few years. Make no mistake, it is work. That is why it is good to have an attorney to guide the Personal Representative through this process.