Wrongful Death Series Part 2: In A Florida Wrongful Death Case, What Does The Probate Process Involve And Why Is It Necessary?
The stress of a recent death in the family is enough to deal with even without legal considerations. The idea that a wrongful death case also means that there has to be a probate proceeding sounds even more menacing. For law firms that are experienced in handling Florida wrongful death cases, they have probate court issues worked into their internal process so that you only have to hire us to handle both the wrongful death case and the probate action.
The Necessity of the Probate Court
Let’s first discuss the necessity of probate court in a Florida wrongful death case. First, while we are alive, a person (unless adjudicated incompetent) handles their own business.
For example, you open checking or savings accounts, buy and sell property, enter into service agreements, apply for and use credit cards, and make other personal and financial decisions. When a person dies, and until a probate court has determined who should act on behalf of the estate, no one can legally do these personal and financial activities on behalf of the decedent. So, the law allows a living person to be granted authority by the probate court to act on behalf of the decedent. This person in Florida is called the Personal Representative.
Naming a Personal Representative in Your Will
How someone becomes a representative depends upon the facts of each case. The most direct way to become a personal representative is for the decedent to name a personal representative in his or her will. Then the probate court will review the will and a presumption will be made by the probate court that the person named as the personal representative by the decedent will be the personal representative.
This presumption can be rebutted by evidence showing that the person named in the will is not qualified to be a personal representative in Florida (i.e., a felon or minor), but most of the time, the probate court will defer to the choice of the decedent as personal representative. As you can imagine, however, most people that die unexpectedly (most of our wrongful death clients) do not have a will.
What If A Person Dies Without Naming A Personal Representative?
If a person dies without a will specifying a personal representative, then the choice is up to the probate court. The court will have a strong preference for a surviving spouse or an only adult child, but otherwise, the probate court will conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the person best suited to handle the job of a personal representative.
The Job of the Personal Representative
The job of a personal representative is to basically serve as a trustee on behalf of the estate and all of the survivors of the estate. The personal representative must keep and safeguard all property of the estate and must provide regular reports to the probate court about the winding down of all business of the estate.
If there is a wrongful death case related to a decedent, then that too becomes the business of the estate and the personal representative is charged by probate law to manage that case on behalf of the survivors and the estate.
Given the important nature of the personal representative and how they act as trustees for the estate and the survivors, the probate court is there to ensure that the person serving has the character and capacity to serve on behalf of others.
Details Are Important To The Wrongful Death Case
The probate court will require the personal representative to provide a detailed accounting of all of the assets and liabilities of the estate and will trust that the personal representative will take no action that is adverse to the interests of the estate or the survivors. In a wrongful death case, the personal representative acts as the plaintiff’s representative and often has no financial stake in the outcome of the lawsuit.
Acting on Behalf of All of The Survivors
Sometimes the personal representative is also a survivor of the decedent, and then they do have a financial interest in the lawsuit, but as the personal representative must act on behalf of all survivors, they cannot take any action that would unfairly deplete another survivor’s share of the estate.
As you can see, handling a Florida Wrongful Death case includes having a good handle on the probate process. The entire case flows through the probate court process, and it is imperative that the lawyer handling your family’s wrongful death matter also have a really good grasp of the probate issues that will be involved in order to provide the best advice possible.
Many times, the personal representative is not even a survivor and cannot collect any damages for the wrongful death action, but the probate court feels they are best suited to manage the case affairs and, therefore, they are named the personal representative.
Joe Zarzaur is a Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer whose firm is dedicated to promoting community safety since 2007. ZARZAUR LAW’S AREAS OF PRACTICE: Serious Personal Injury, Product Defect, Auto Accidents, Cycling Accidents, Motor Vehicle Accidents, Products Liability, Wrongful Death, Community Safety, Boat and Jet Ski Accidents, Slip and Fall Injuries, and more. Licensed in Alabama and Florida.
If you or a loved one is in need of a FREE legal consultation in regards to your wrongful death case, speak with Zarzaur Law’s Florida Wrongful Death Act experts. Put yourself in the best possible position to receive the justice you deserve. It is also important to consult with a Board Certified Trial lawyer who has the knowledge and experience to help you. We know accidents can be stressful and want to make the process as easy as possible for you. Call Zarzaur Law, P.A. today at (855) Hire-Joe for a free legal consultation or visit www.zarzaurlaw.com.
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