Pinellas County Probate Court: Information You Need
If you’re like me then you have no idea where Pinellas County Probate Court is, let alone what to do once you get there. Recently, though, I was put in a situation where I had to head down to the probate court, so I thought I’d share a little info for those of you who feel just as lost as I was.
Pinellas County Probate Court
Let’s start with the basics. When you’re looking for probate court, you want to head to the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater at 315 Court St # 300, Clearwater, FL 33756.
If you get lost along the way or — like me — get lost inside the building, you can call (727) 464–7000 for a little direction.
Why Would You Need to Go to Probate Court?
When someone passes away, the probate court handles the administration of the estate.
This starts when you open probate at the probate court — essentially, telling the court “my grandfather died, I have his will”. You will then have to fill out a form to open probate for your grandfather’s estate. The court will then look over your grandfather’s will to be sure that it is valid. For example, if your grandfather was being cared for by an unethical nurse who tricked your grandfather into rewriting his will to leave all of his financial assets to her, you can dispute the validity of that will.
Now, in the example above, hopefully, you would make a good case and the court would find in your favor. When this happens, the court will then determine a new method of distributing your grandfather’s estate assets. This could be through a previous copy of your grandfather’s will or through state “intestate laws” which distribute property according to specific inheritance patterns.
It’s not too likely that you’re going to find yourself in this situation, though. You’ll probably end up like me, filing for probate and getting the process underway. While I didn’t have to deal with complications like a manipulated will, I did find the entire probate process to be quite complicated.
So, here’s how it went…
Steps in Filing Probate
1. Filing For Probate
The first thing that I had to do was file for probate. I covered this briefly above. Essentially, I went to the probate court and filed a petition for probate. To do this, I also had to take a copy of the will and a death certificate.
2. A Scheduled Hearing
Once I did this, the court scheduled a hearing to approve the executor of the will. In this case, it was me. If someone disagrees with your appointment as the executor, they will have a chance to object during this hearing. I couldn’t tell you how disagreements go specifically since I didn’t have to deal with that myself, but the hearing was simple. After the hearing, the court then opens the probate case, and if like me, you’re the executor of the estate, you will begin to serve as the representative of the estate.
3. Giving Notice
I didn’t realize there was so much involved in probate!
As the representative of the estate, the next thing I had to do was to send notice to creditors of the estate — people who were owed money by my grandfather — and the other heirs and beneficiaries of my grandfather’s will. I also had to publish a notice in the newspaper to let creditors know that my grandfather had died.
Once all of that was done, I had to take inventory of items in my grandfather’s estate. Each item in the estate had to be evaluated and then I had to give that list of inventory to the court.
5. Debts and Bills
The next thing I had to do was go through and make sure that all of the bills and debts of the estate were paid. This covered pretty much everything including my grandfather’s final tax return.
6. Asset Distribution
With everyone who was owed money being paid, the next thing I had to do was distribute the leftover assets of the estate. This was done according to my grandfather’s wishes. Things that weren’t specifically provided for in my grandfather’s will were sold and then the funds were distributed among the heirs and beneficiaries listed in the will.
7. No Longer Being the Executor
After all of the assets had been distributed, I had to collect all of the records and receipts from the estate and hand them over to the court. After doing that, I let the court know that I wanted the estate to be closed. Once the court closed the estate, I was released from the responsibilities of being the estate executor.
Not So Easy
So, going through the probate process was a lot more complicated than I imagined it could be…well, to be honest, I had very little information about probate at all. Pinellas County Probate Court was very helpful and everyone I ran into was really nice, but if I had to do it all again, I’m pretty sure that I would have hired a better lawyer.
When I started the whole process, I knew that I could get a better lawyer to help, but I was reluctant to spend the money. I figured the whole thing couldn’t be that tough to do so I hired the cheapest attorney possible…this was a mistake. I wound up doing a lot of the legwork and it was confusing and time-consuming and trying to deal with it all while also grieving the loss of my grandfather and it was HARD.
Do you have to hire a lawyer?
Yes. In Florida you do have to hire a lawyer to help with probate in the majority of situations. But don’t do what I did and go with the first lawyer you find because they’re the cheapest. Do some research first and go with a lawyer who has a pretty good reputation with probate.
I won’t name and shame the lawyer I went with because it’d just give them more press, but doing a quick Google search for good probate lawyers in the area with a reputation found plenty of good options. Doing it again, I’d probably go with someone like Weidner Law — a big, reputable firm with plenty of experience and reasonable fees.