A common question is whether a beneficiary under a Will is permitted to empty the contents of a decedent’s house prior to commencement of the probate proceeding and the appointment of a Personal Representative (“PR”). Probate is a court supervised process to transfer a Decedent’s assets to their heirs at law under the Florida intestacy statute or through the Decedent’s Last Will and Testament. The simple answer is that the beneficiary should wait until the court appoints a PR and only after discussion with their legal counsel. There could be issues as to who is entitled to the personal property and if any creditors have a claim against the personal property.
As soon as possible after the Decedent’s death the beneficiaries should begin to inventory, photograph, and safeguard the personal belongings found in the Decedent’s home. After the appointment by the court of the PR, the PR can separate the Decedent’s personal property as follows; (1) property that will be distributed to the beneficiaries, (2) property that will be sold with the net proceeds distributed to the beneficiaries, and (3) property that will be given away or discarded. The PR may also want to get an appraisal on any property of significant value to ensure the property is fairly divided to the beneficiaries or if the property is going to be sold that the fair market value is determined for such sale.
It is tempting for a beneficiary to start removing and distributing the decedent’s personal property in a home prior to the commencement of the probate process but it is recommended to wait until you have authority by the probate court and after consultation with their counsel to distribute or sell the decedent’s personal property found in their home.
Note that this article addresses personal property found in a home that was solely owned by the Decedent. If the home was held in a Revocable Trust, Joint Ownership, or in a Life Estate/Lady Bird Deed then you should contact an attorney to discuss the disposition of the home’s personal property to ensure the proper devise of the personal property.