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Ask a Probate Attorney: 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 establishes 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 Farshchian Law Probate Attorney can help you avoid this scenario or minimize its impact. 

Understanding Probate

Whether 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. Such an estate is described as intestate. 

Intestate Estates

Florida’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 and they are also the descendants of your surviving spouse (and your spouse does not have any other children), your surviving spouse still receives your entire estate.
  • If there are living descendants who are not also descendants of your surviving spouse, your spouse receives one-half of the estate while the other half is distributed among the surviving 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 no 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 proceeds 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.

How a Farshchian Law Probate Attorney Can Help

Our estate planning and probate specialists can help you avoid probate through several legal strategies, which would include, but not be limited to, a clear and comprehensive Will. Probate need not be a complicated and difficult experience if you have the right estate plan. Moreover, if you are an heir of a testate or intestate estate, our attorneys are equipped to help you make the process as smooth and expeditious as possible. 

Regardless of the size or composition of your estate, we have the experience, knowledge, and track record you need to ensure that an estate’s assets are distributed with maximum efficiency. Please call us at (800) 604-1871 or email us at Probate@JFRealEstateLaw.com to learn more about our probate and estate planning services.