When someone dies in Florida leaving an inheritance for heirs, there are certain time limits and procedures that apply. If an heir does not claim an inheritance in time after a Florida court has opened a probate case, he may be barred from receiving the inheritance at all. Probate laws are complicated, so talk to a Florida estate and probate attorney if you need legal advice.
When a person dies with property in Florida, that property generally can't go to new owners or inheritors until a Florida Circuit Court opens a probate case and settles the estate. Florida Statutes section 733.202 states that any "interested person" may petition the court to open the probate case, though the law does not impose a time limit on when this has to happen. This effectively means that you can open a Florida probate case any time after a person dies.
Whenever someone opens a probate case in a Florida court, that person, known as the personal administrator, must notify any heirs and potential claimants that she has opened the probate case. Florida Statutes section 733.212(1) states that the administrator must do this "promptly" but states no specific time limit. However, once served notice of the opening of the probate case, anyone who wants to challenge the will must do so within three months of service. Further, anyone entitled to exempt property must make a claim within four months or lose the right to exempt that property.
In Florida, the surviving spouse of a decedent is entitled to take an "elective share" of the estate. This elective share is a specific portion of the estate to which a spouse is entitled regardless of whether the decedent left the spouse an inheritance in the will. If a spouse wants to make an elective share claim, he must do so within six months of receiving notice of the opening of administration or two years after the decedent dies, whichever is earlier, according to Florida Statutes section 733.212(1)(e).
Other Time Limits
Whenever an administrator opens a probate case, she has to notify potential creditors that she has done so by publishing notice in the local paper of general circulation. Florida Statutes section 733.2121 states that the administrator must publish a notice once a week for two consecutive weeks. Any creditors then have three months to file a claim against the estate.
Roger Thorne is an attorney who began freelance writing in 2003. He has written for publications ranging from "MotorHome" magazine to "Cruising World." Thorne specializes in writing for law firms, Web sites, and professionals. He has a Juris Doctor from the University of Kansas.