Florida probate – Summary or Formal Administration? A simple analogy

Florida probate administration has two (2) primary types:  Summary Administration or Formal Administration

So which do you choose?  The red pill or the blue pill?

Neither. The analogy doesn’t really fit (I just liked the photo).

Here’s a better analogy (I hope):

Summary Administration is like a closet:

  • Open closet door
  • Reach in to grab what you need
  • Close closet door


Formal Administration is like a hallway:

  • Open hallway door
  • Walk down the hallway
  • Take care of tasks along the way
  • Exit door at the end of the hallway

Why the analogy?

Because if you have a choice, you must choose wisely.

Summary Admin Pros/Cons

Pros

  1. Shorter proceeding (2-5 months)
  2. Fewer hoops & hurdles
  3. Less work, ergo less expensive

Cons

  1. A personal representative is not officially appointed
  2. All assets should be accounted for before filing
  3. Banks and financial institutions are often confused by Summary Administration orders
  4. Not every estate is eligible for summary administration

Formal Admin Pros/Cons

Pros

  1. A personal representative is appointed (with power to secure information about any assets or debt)
  2. Comprehensive/Complete proceeding
  3. Banks and financial instutations are more comfortable when you present “Letters of administration” (see #1)
  4. Best choice when there are many known creditors

Cons

  1. Longer proceeding (5-12 months typically)
  2. More work, ergo more expensive

Which to choose? Summary seems like the obvious choice, but even if the estate is eligible, it may not always make the most sense or it might be impractical for your case.

For example, here’s a snapshot of mom’s estate:

  • A checking account with less than $50,000
  • There are no known creditors
  • The bank wants letters of administration to release the money
  • There may be another savings account which is believed to be less than $10,000 at another bank but they won’t give any information without letters of administration

Summary or Formal?

Final answer?

Answer:  It depends.

Here’s why:

In formal administration, a personal representative/executor is officially appointed by the court and “letters of administration” are issued by the judge granting full authority to ask questions, collect assets and otherwise administer the estate.  Banks are happy when they see the letters because they are familiar (read: it’s in the bank’s policy manual.)  The bank with the savings account will readily hand over the info you need about the savings account and allow you to liquidate without much hassle.

In summary administration, a PR/executor is not appointed, but since the savings account is less then $10,000 (which would mean the total size of the estate is no more than $60,000), perhaps we don’t need a PR appointed.  We just petition the judge to sign an order distributing the estimated value of the assets.  To heck with presenting the letters of admin – just show them the summary orders! Most bank reps scratch their heads when they see summary orders, but eventually, they will understand and distribute funds.

There are quite a few variables to consider when making the choice.  Make no mistake… every probate case is different, even if the differences are minute.  Be sure you’re making an informed choice!

2 Responses to Florida probate – Summary or Formal Administration? A simple analogy
  1. [...] a new article over on the florida probate site about the differences between summary and formal administration.  Clients don’t always have a choice here, but when they do, time and cost savings can be [...]

  2. [...] prospective clients that summary administration has disadvantages.  Not long ago, I discussed the pros and cons of summary administration vs. formal administration and it became clear that I didn’t emphasize the cons very [...]

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