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what happens to my parents' house after they die

Probate law does not allow anyone to take items from a loved ones’ home after they die, until the will has been probated. Learning about probate, what it entails and how to prepare for it may make it a little easier when a family member dies, says an article titled “Can you empty a house before probate? from Augusta Free Press. Knowing what to expect can avoid common pitfalls and mistakes, some of which often lead to family fights and even litigation.

What does the probate process entail?

Probate is a court-supervised period when the estate of the decedent is on pause. Assets may not be distributed, including personal items in the home. The goal is to ensure that assets are distributed only after the will has been ruled valid by the Florida probate court and following the instructions in the will.

Probate includes the legal appointment of the executor, who is named in the will with specific statutory responsibilities, to include ultimately distributing assets.

Certain tasks can be accomplished during probate relating to the home and other property. This includes changing the locks on the home to protect it from criminals and unauthorized people who have keys. The decedent’s mail can be forwarded to the executor or another family member’s address. A review of the decedent’s bills, especially monthly payments, can take place. If there’s a mortgage on the home, the mortgage company needs to be contacted and the payments need to be made.

How do you maintain the homeowners insurance while the house is going through probate?

If the home is in probate, you also need to consider Florida homeowner’s insurance.  If the house sustains damage because of a covered loss, the homeowner’s policy can pay to repair or rebuild the home. Jacksonville Attorney Bill O’Leary explains what the executor of the estate, or the trustee if the home is held in a trust, needs to do to ensure that the home is still covered by insurance. Because the original policy will not transfer after the death of the original owner, the insurance company should be contacted to create a new policy. Watch more in the video.

Once probate is over, what happens next with the home?

As the end of the probate period nears, it may be time to contact an appraiser to get an unbiased, professional appraisal of the home’s value. This will be needed if the home is to be sold, or if the estate plan needs a valuation of the home.

After probate has been completed, the executor distributes the assets, including the personal property in the home. Personal property with sentimental value often sparks more family fights than assets of greater value. Administering an estate when emotions are running high is a challenge for all concerned.

Estate planning can help avoid the probate process and family fights

For many people, estate planning includes preparing assets to avoid the probate process. An estate plan includes a review of the entire estate to see which assets are best suited to be taken out of the estate. Living trusts, joint ownership, transfer-on-death (TOD) and many other estate planning strategies can be used, depending on the person’s finances.

Probate is often a necessary process. But it can create challenges for the family, especially if no estate planning has been done. In Florida, probate can be a long and expensive process. Read more in our article, Did you know? You Can Avoid the Blood-Sucking Probate Process! Prior planning by an experienced probate attorney like Bill O’Leary, Esq. prevents many of the issues presented by probate.

Another reason to have an estate plan in place is to delineate very specifically what you want to occur after your death. That way there is no room for family members to stake a claim and do something contrary to your wishes. If you are managing the estate of your parents or want to prevent family fighting over your house after you are gone, schedule a free discovery call with our Jacksonville probate team.

Reference: Augusta Free Press (May 13, 2022) “Can you empty a house before probate?


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