What Does It Mean to Die Without a Will in Florida?
Many Florida residents choose not to make a last will and testament. So what happens when a person dies without a will? Florida state law steps in to fill the void through a process known as “intestate succession.”
How Intestate Succession Provides for Spouses & Children
Florida’s intestate succession law specifies how to distribute the property of a deceased individual when that person has made no provision on their own. Intestate succession may actually apply even in cases where a person has made a will but failed to make a complete distribution of their property. For example, if you make a will that says, “I leave my house to my wife,” but do not mention or include any other property, then the rest of your probate estate will be disposed of under the intestate succession law.
The first thing intestate succession law looks for is whether or not the deceased individual was legally married. If there is a surviving spouse—but no surviving children or other descendants—then he or she is entitled to inherit the entire estate. If there is no surviving spouse, but the deceased had one or more children or other descendants (i.e., grandchildren), then the children inherit the entire estate.
Now, the situation is more complex if the surviving spouse has children from another relationship—i.e., not with the deceased. To illustrate, suppose John and Mary are married and have two children together. Mary also has a son from a previous marriage. If John dies without a will, then one-half of his estate will go to Mary and the other one-half will be divided between their two common children. Conversely, if Mary did not have a child from another relationship, she would inherit John’s entire estate upon his death.
Searching For Distant Cousins
But what happens if you die and you never married or had children? The intestate succession law specifies the order in which your other relatives would inherit your estate. The order basically goes: parents, siblings, and then descendants of siblings. If there are no surviving family members within these groups, the law starts searching for cousins—descendants of grandparents, descendants of great-grandparents, et al. In rare cases, if a person dies without a will and has no identifiable living family members, the estate may “escheat” or be taken by the State of Florida as a form of unclaimed property.
Take Control of Your Florida Estate Planning
The other issue that arises when a person dies without a will is selecting a personal representative to manage the estate. Florida law gives a surviving spouse priority of appointment. If there is no surviving spouse, or he or she is unable to fulfill the role, either the “person selected by a majority in interest of the heirs” or the “heir nearest in degree,” as determined by a judge, will be named as personal representative.
If you don’t want a judge to decide who should manage your estate or you disagree with how intestate succession law may divide your property among your relatives, then it is imperative that you make a will as soon as possible. If you would like to speak with an experienced St. Petersburg estate planning attorney about your will and related needs, contact the offices of Carnal & Mansfield, P.A., today.