It’s so common for older people who spend most of their time in the northern states to have winter homes in Florida that they’re commonly called “snowbirds,” because they fly south when the seasons change.
Unfortunately, this particular way of living does give rise to some problems when a loved one dies while owning property in a different state. Whether that’s a second house, a condo, a trailer in a 55+ community or something else, that property needs to be handled through an ancillary probate process.
What’s ancillary probate?
Ancillary probate is basically an “extra” probate process that occurs outside of the deceased’s state of domicile (which is called the “domiciliary” estate process). It’s generally not required to handle liquid assets, like bank accounts and investments, but it is required for real property.
Ancillary probate is very common in Florida because of the number of seasonal residents, and it’s usually fairly hassle-free – as long as the property has no encumbrances (like unpaid liens) and the domiciliary estate plan is valid.
The biggest problem that the deceased’s loved ones may encounter is finding someone who can serve as a personal representative (executor) for the ancillary estate. Generally, the personal representative must be a Florida resident, although exceptions can be made for the spouse, child, sibling or another close relative of the deceased.
The only problem, of course, is that the process still requires a working understanding of the Florida probate process and a lot of time – and, quite likely, travel. That’s why many heirs who find themselves in this position opt to have local legal assistance to handle the issues with the property on their behalf.
It is possible to avoid ancillary probate through careful estate planning. Joint ownership with rights of survivorship, living trusts and Lady Bird deeds (which operate essentially like a transfer-on-death deed in other states) are all used for this process.
Whether you are a “snowbird” who is just thinking ahead and trying to make things easier for your loved ones in the future, or you’re trying to figure out what to do about your loved one’s Florida estate now that they’re gone, experienced legal guidance is always helpful.