What Happens When You Die Without a Will?
Most people know that a Will is a crucial legal document in any estate plan, as it established what assets you own and to whom they will be distributed. Given the importance of a Will, it is reasonable to wonder what would happen to your estate if you were to die without one.
Understanding ProbateWhether you have a Will or not, your estate may still have to go through probate, a legal procedure in which the court supervises the winding down of your estate. An effective Will sets forth clearly who will serve as the personal representative of your estate - e.g., the person responsible for carrying out your wishes - and how you want your assets handled. This makes it likelier that the probate process will be smoother, quicker, and less costly. In this scenario, the estate is called testate.
However, without a Will to specify who will inherit what, the probate court will have to play a larger role in sorting out how your estate's assets will be distributed. This includes appointing someone to serve as personal representative. Such an estate is described as intestate.
Intestate EstatesFlorida's intestacy statute sets forth the rules governing estates that do not have a Will (or where the Will is deemed to be invalid). With regards to distributable assets, it mandates the following order of succession:
- If you have no descendants, your surviving spouse receives the entire estate.
- If you have living descendants, the surviving spouse receives one half of the estate while the other half is distributed among your descendants.
- If you were unmarried at death, the living descendants receive the whole estate.
- If a decedent has no surviving spouse or descendants, the entire estate is left to the decedent's parents.
- If there are no surviving parents, the estate passes to all surviving siblings.
- If there are surviving spouses, descendants, parents, or siblings, the assets will be distributed among relatives.
- Finally, if there are no discernable surviving heirs whatsoever, the estate will be passed to the State of Florida, which will sell the assets and deposit the proceed into the State School Fund. There is a 10-year statute of limitations for any claims of entitlement.
Thus, without a Will, your estate will be left to the devices of Florida's intestacy succession laws. Therefore, it is likely in your best interests - and those of your heirs - to work with an attorney to create an estate plan that includes a Will and other necessary legal documents that will better reflect how you want your legacy handled after death.