David Howard Goldberg, P.L.

What happens when Floridians die without wills?

Despite the fact that most people understand the importance of making an estate plan, it is common for Florida residents to procrastinate making that plan until it is too late. Those who die without writing their wills leave it to the court to decide what happens to their estates. The courts refer to an estate without a will as intestate, and there is a statutory pattern of succession that probate will follow when someone dies intestate.

If the deceased is survived by a spouse and children who are biologically descendants of the deceased and the spouse, the spouse gets all of the probate estate. However, if either spouse has children from a previous relationship, things can get complicated. For example, if the deceased has children of his or her own, those children will get half of the estate. If there are children that belong to the married couple but the surviving spouse also has children from a previous relationship, the children of the couple inherit half of the estate.

The estate of someone who dies having never married or had any children goes 100 percent to the surviving parents, siblings, or nieces and nephews, in that order. Without even these surviving family members, the probate estate will pass to the paternal side of the family, then to the maternal side. An intestate estate with no relatives on either side of the family will be sold and the proceeds deposited into the Florida School Fund.

Many people have definite wishes for the fate of their estates, such as leaving it to a close friend, donating it to charity or using it to establish a legacy in some way. However, without wills and other estate planning tools, the estates left intestate may end up distributed in a very different manner than they expect. It is important that those considering making an estate plan do not hesitate and leave such personal matters to the courts.

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