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What Happens if I Die Without a Will?

Posted by attorney Steven Ledbetter

No matter how small your property or assets, whether you're single or married, whether or not you have children or even pets, it's important to have a will that designates what happens to your property after your death, or else the courts decide who gets-or doesn't get-what.


Florida's laws concerning intestate succession can be found in sections 732.101 - 732.111 of the Probate Code. The laws follow a predefined formula and might not be what you want or expect. This pattern of property distribution depends primarily on whether you are married or single, and whether you or your spouse or partner has any children.


The least complicated intestate scenarios are dying single with or without children. E.g., Jan is single, her parents are still alive, and she has a nephew she adores; she would like to leave him money for his education when she dies. If Jane dies without a will, her assets are distributed to her parents because she is single with no children or spouse. If her parents predecease her, Jan's property goes to her siblings-who may or may not pass the money to her nephew. Even if Jan expressed to friends and family that she wanted her money to go to her nephew, it is up to whoever inherits the money to use it for that purpose-which may or may not happen. To ensure the money is used for her nephew's education, Jan should specify it in her will.

Scenario 2: Ron is single with two children. If he dies without a will, his estate is split evenly between his children. Normally this is what a parent prefers, but if Ron wants to leave one child more money, he must specify it in his will.


Dying without a will when you are married or have a domestic partner becomes even more complicated. If you are married with no children, Florida intestate law dictates that your estate simply. In some states, a surviving spouse can inherit everything. In other states, typically only one-third to one-half of the estate is given to the surviving spouse with the rest going to the deceased's parents. In the event that the parents are also deceased, the rest is split among the deceased's siblings. Similarly, for those who are married with children, the surviving spouses typically inherits one-third to one-half of the estate with the remainder being divided among the children.

Your Wishes

Last, keep in mind that Florida statutes dictates that if you die without a will or any heirs, your estate's assets would escheat to the state of Florida. The only way to ensure your wishes are carried out is to write a will and keep it up-to-date. When major life changes-marriages, divorces, births, deaths, interstate moves-occur, you should review your will and make any necessary changes.

Additional resources provided by the author

Steven W. Ledbetter, Esq. is a licensed attorney representing clients throughout Sarasota, Charlotte, and Manatee Counties in Estate Planning, Probate/Trust Administration, and Guardianship matters. His practice includes all subjects concerning wills, trusts, advance directives, and guardianships, and he has been working as an attorney within these areas for over eight years. Mr. Ledbetter is a member of the Venice Estate Planning Council, the Estate Planning Section of the Sarasota County Bar Association, and the Real Property, Probate and Trust Section of the Florida Bar.

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