My husband's stepfather just recently passed and left no will. He had not been in contact with his children for over 20 years (either in jail or living elsewhere). My mother -in-law is worried that one of his sons (drug addict, felon) will try to come around and collect anything that he may think belongs to him. Without a will, is my mother in law the default recipient of all things left in his estate? Thank you!
Estate Planning Attorney
Under Florida law, a surviving spouse is entitled to a certain portion of a deceased spouse's estate. The children of the decedent may also be entitled to part of the estate. Your mother-in-law should contact a Florida probate attorney to find out exactly what her rights/obligations are.
I would be more than happy to answer any questions your mother-in-law related to her particular situation.
Francine R. Martin, Esq.
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Estate Planning Attorney
The answer to your question is pretty straight-forward. By that I mean that your question is completely answered by Section 732.102 of the Florida Statutes. Before reciting the terms of that statute, I will make two assumptions. First, I will assume that mother-in-law was married to husband's step-father at the time of his death. Second, I will assume that the long-lost children you refer to (i.e. the drug addict and felon) are his children and not hers. Assuming that both of these assumptions are true, then Florida law provides that your mother-in-law is entitled to one-half of the estate and his children will split the remaining one-half.
Your mother-in-law and her husband probably owned everything, the house, the car, the bank account, as tenants by the entirety. When he died, she survived and still owns everything. If the son comes around, there is nothing for him.
R. Jason de Groot, Esq., 386-337-8239
I agree with all of the prior responses. As Attorney Degroot astutely pointed out, we do not have enough information from your summary in order to fully answer your question. If all of the assets were joint, they would pass outside probate and a Will would not affect the distribution to the surviving joint tenant. Any assets with a designated beneficiary likewise bypass probate and any Will. The intestate provisions mentioned by the other attorneys apply ONLY to probate assets.
So the FIRST step is to determine the title to the assets. The next step, in the absence of a Will, is to consider the application of the intestate code.
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Assuming his sons were not the sons of your mother-in-law, your mother-in-law would be entitled to one-half of the estate. If the sons are the sons of your mother-in-law, she is entitled to the first $60,000.00 of the estate, plus one-half of the balance of the estate. Additionally, she is entitled to any property that was titled jointly.
I assume that your mother-in-law was married to him at the time of his death. If he left asets with a named beneficiary, such as a bank account or life insurance, the assets go automatically to the beneficiary. If he owned an asset jointly with someone else, in most cases, the survivor gets it. So we are only talking here about assets in his name alone. Under Florida law, these are divided between his wife and children. It makes no difference whether or not he had any contact with the children. However, if the value is less than $60,000, after expenses, debts, etc., then your mother in law, udner Florida law, is entitled to all of it. She also gets certain other benefits as a widow.
Car / Auto Accident Lawyer
Do you see how your simple question kicks us lawyers into "if this, then that" mode? It's funny here on Avvo; but it could be a real pain (and expensive) for lawyers to come into court arguing for each's client's interests. The lesson is for you and your husband to be sure to do a little planning so that nobody is posting questions about your estates down the road. Start with a no-fee living will. See below.
An offer and a disclaimer: Offer: Visit www.411LegalDox.com to learn about and to create your own Florida Living Will and to designation your Health Care Surrogate. Direct your family and friends to the site also. There is no fee for Living Will and Health Care Surrogate. These documents speak for us when we are unable to speak for ourselves. Disclaimer: The response above is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, would significantly alter the above response.
Your question does not provide certain information needed to formulate an exact answer. However, it appears that the estate in Florida would pass by intestacy laws. The children may have a stake in the outcome, even though they have criminal backgrounds. This is unfortunate. I suggest contacting a qualified attorney to assist you with this process.