What Happens If Someone in Florida Dies Without a Will?

Last will and Testament

In Florida, if you die without a will in place, your property becomes subject to state intestate laws. These laws were put in place to prevent personal property from becoming assets of the state because they didn’t have a will to distribute the assets. Intestate laws provide Florida judges with a rigid formula that passes assets to the closest living relative of the deceased party. Due to the rigidity of intestate laws, they are rarely aligned with the wishes of the deceased party. Furthermore, allowing an estate to be subjected to intestate succession can prevent a deceased party from distributing assets to those outside their immediate family. State law succession regulations were never meant to serve as more than a backup plan – or rather a worst-case scenario.

Florida Intestate Laws Explained

In Florida, if you die without a will, the court, not you, will decide who in your family will inherit your property. While this may not seem like a bad idea, it can be complicated. Modern families are dynamic and varying, so if you have a blended family or adult children and grandchildren you want to leave property, intestate succession laws could prevent you from enriching the lives of your loved ones.

Intestate laws are rigid and extremely formulaic. Assets are distributed in most cases as follows:

  • If a party dies without a spouse but has living children, the children inherit the whole of the estate.
  • If a party dies without living children or offspring of any deceased children, the spouse is the sole heir
  • If a party dies without a spouse or children, the party’s parents inherit the estate
  • If a party dies without parents, a spouse, or children, the party’s siblings inherit the estate.

While this may seem straightforward and uncomplicated, intestate laws are quite complex for families outside these rigid guidelines. If a party leaves behind a spouse and grown children, the children are disinherited, and the spouse takes everything unless the children are from another relationship. The children from the other marriage would inherit half, and the spouse would inherit the other half, and the children from the second marriage would effectively be disinherited. These difficulties exist because the intestate succession system wasn’t created to meet the financial goals and inheritance plans of families. It was created as a fail-safe plan for those without existing arrangements. The best course of action for individuals concerned about how their assets will be distributed once they’re deceased is to work with a family law attorney with experience creating estate plans and navigating probate court.

Property Affected by Intestate Laws

Not all property falls within intestate succession laws. Only assets that can be transferred or distributed in a will can be subjected to intestate succession laws. For example, joint property cannot be distributed using a will.

Other properties not subjected to intestate laws include:

  • Joint Tenancy Property
  • Property in a Trust
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Retirement Account Assets
  • Transfer-on-Death Brokerage Account Securities
  • Payable-on-Death Bank Account Assets
  • Life Insurance

Assets with a named beneficiary or designated owner are not subject to intestate laws. Additionally, joint tenancy assets, those that include right of survivorship, pass directly to the surviving owner. So, parties with varying assets can find their estate left in chaos if they won’t have a will or trust put in place.

How to Avoid Florida Intestate Laws

If you have loved ones and family members you’d like to leave assets once you’ve passed on, intestate laws could complicate those goals. The best way to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes is to avoid intestate laws altogether.

Create an Estate Plan: Working with an estate planning or a probate attorney can ensure you or your beneficiaries have more control over what happens to your assets. However, creating an estate plan is the best way to ensure your goals are met. Creating a will or trust guarantees your final wishes are known. Depending on your assets and the planning needs of your estate, your attorney will provide guidance for what is required to meet your planning needs.

Your estate plan could be as simple as a will, but if something more detailed and varying is required, having an attorney on your side can make all the difference. If your loved one has passed away before finalizing an estate plan, the easiest way to navigate the intestate succession process is to work with a probate attorney who can provide much-needed guidance.

Contact the Florida Estate Planning Lawyers Schedule a Consultation

At Edwards & Edwards, P.A., we have 65+ years of combined legal experience, and we understand the importance of family! As a family law firm owned and operated by sisters, we are dedicated to helping our clients meet their long- and short-term goals by creating strong legal and financial solutions. If you need an estate plan or help getting a loved one’s estate through probate court, our attorney can help.

Contact our probate or estate planning attorneys at (904) 478-9255 to schedule a consultation. We will review the details of your situation and work with you to develop a strategy to help you meet your goals.