It’s not unusual for folks who live in areas with harsh winters to migrate down to Florida each year for the duration – but when these “snowbirds” pass away it can create some major confusion about their estates and the probate process.
Probate is the formal process that takes place after someone dies to “settle” their estate. It involves officially appointing a personal representative or executor to handle the job, making certain that their will is valid, handling the resolution of any outstanding debts and distributing their remaining assets to their heirs. If your loved one was a snowbird, however, you may find that you need to handle part of their estate through a process known as ancillary probate.
What’s ancillary probate? When is it needed?
The primary probate process takes place in the deceased’s state of residence (which may or may not be where they actually died). That’s called the “domiciliary” estate process. The ancillary probate process addresses any out-of-state assets they may have. It’s necessary because the probate process in each state follows its own rules and procedures.
Ancillary probate is generally needed whenever:
- The deceased owned real estate in more than one state. Whether it was an entire second home, a condo or just a small vacation cottage, real property has to be handled according to the laws of the state in which it exists.
- The deceased owned other real property with legal titles in another state. For example, maybe your loved one only rented an apartment each winter, but they kept a car and a boat in Florida that they just put into storage when they were elsewhere. Those assets would need to be handled through the ancillary process.
- The deceased owned a business in a different state. If your loved one was a silent partner in a Florida business, you may need to go through the ancillary probate process to either liquidate their share of the company or transfer its ownership to the right party.
While going through probate twice can sound complicated, it’s usually fairly straightforward. The biggest difficulty is often finding someone whom the Florida courts will accept as the ancillary estate’s executor. That’s where legal guidance can make all the difference.