Individuals can control a wide range of important choices through proper estate planning, from how medical treatment is managed when they are incapacitated to how their property is divided after their passing.
Sadly, far too many people do not understand the significance of estate planning, do not properly execute the documents, or simply postpone until it is too late.
Estate distribution is determined by the law of intestate succession when someone dies without a will, trust, or other arrangement for his or her assets.
Intestate succession laws are designed to ensure that they are provided for by those nearest to the deceased.
The result, however, is not always what you would expect or hope to achieve when the State decides what happens to your most prized belongings.
How Does Florida Intestate Succession Work?
If you die in Florida without estate planning, your assets will pass to a set person or group of individuals depending on your marital status and family relations.
The State ultimately determines who inherits property, cash, and all other aspects of one’s assets and does not take into consideration the strength of the relation of the individuals.
For example, if an individual dies with a will or a spouse and is survived by two children, one of whom was at their side for the past ten years and the other who has not spoken to their parent in over twenty years, these children will inherit in exactly equal shares.
This can be extremely frustrating for the child who put their life on hold to care for their parent while the other seemingly had zero relationship with their parent. Unfortunately, our office sees situations similar to this on a consistent basis.
Who Inherits What?
Sections 732.101-.109 of the Florida Statute govern the Florida Intestacy process.
When someone dies without a will or trust, all assets go to the nearest relatives as determined by the State. The heirs implement a particular order in Florida given as follows:
a. The surviving spouse may inherit first. For this, a legitimate marriage must exist. When there are no children, the spouse gets everything. If there were children outside the marriage on either side, then the estate will be split between the surviving spouse and the descendants of the decedent.
b. Children are in the second order if the decedent was not survived by a spouse. In the event of the child’s death before the parent, the grandchild may inherit that child’s part of the estate. Children must be legally adopted or biological children to fit into this category. In this analysis, step children are not included nor any other individual the decedent may have “raised as one of their own” if they never formally adopted the child.
c. If the decedent dies and did not have a spouse nor children, then the parents of the decedent are next in the step to inherit the estate.
d. If none of the above survived the decedent, then the siblings of the deceased would divide the estate.
In today’s world, family groups can be problematic particularly with blended families. For instance, the surviving spouse typically gets everything.
However, if the deceased has children from a prior marriage, half the estate will be received by the surviving spouse and the other half from the first marriage goes to the child/kids.
Each scenario can have different complications for which it is imperative to have an experienced attorney on your side.
Which Assets Do Not Pass Through An Estate?
Not all assets will have to pass through probate. Some of the examples include:
- Named beneficiaries on financial accounts such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance;
- Jointly owned property; and
- Assets held in trust;
Be sure to address these assets when you meet with your estate planning attorney to decide the best way to move them on to your beneficiaries.
How To Protect The Estate?
You lose control over who gets your properties when your property goes through intestate succession. But that is not the only danger associated with failing to develop a successful plan for the estate.
Lack of understanding will increase the risk of litigation, which is frustrating, time-consuming, and can drain assets and resources over petty squabbles.
Consult With An Experienced Attorney
If you are not certain if you can inherit the estate of a deceased relative, consult with our Florida Probate Attorneys to inquire what your rights are under Florida Intestate Succession.
To explore your options, contact our Law Firm if you need assistance contesting the acts of an executor or navigating the probate process.
Our Orlando attorneys are standing by to provide you with services you can trust and depend on. We offer free consultations because we know each case is unique.
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