Losing someone you love is never easy. But when they pass away without an estate plan in place, extra challenges arise. Understanding Florida’s intestate succession laws can provide clarity on what happens when there’s no will.
As your trusted estate planning attorneys, we’re here to explain. While a properly drafted will allows you to decide who inherits your assets, intestacy means the state steps in. Florida has detailed intestacy statutes that dictate who gets what.
Let’s explore what spouses, children, and other family members are entitled to when someone dies without a will in the Sunshine State. We’ll also cover what property is impacted, the probate process for intestate estates, and why proper planning is critical.
Intestate Succession Basics in Florida
Intestate succession determines inheritance when someone passes away without a valid will or trust. Also known as dying intestate, it means a person’s estate will be distributed according to Florida law.
The good news? If you have close family, Florida aims to provide for them. The intestacy statute identifies specific relatives as heirs and beneficiaries.
Here’s how it works. The estate of an intestate decedent is divided into various shares based on the family members alive at the time of death. Shares are first given to the surviving spouse and any descendants. If there is no spouse or descendants, other relatives like parents and siblings may inherit.
Now, let’s look at spousal rights and benefits under Florida’s intestate succession laws.
Surviving Spouse Inheritance Rights
Marriage brings certain protections when a spouse dies intestate. Florida grants automatic inheritance rights and other benefits to widows and widowers.
If your spouse dies without a will, you’re entitled to at least 30% of their net estate. You also have rights to exempt property like household furnishings up to $20,000 in value.
As the surviving spouse, you may receive a full 100% of the net intestate estate. This happens if your deceased spouse has no living parents and no descendants.
If there are descendants like children or grandchildren, you inherit the first $60,000 plus half the remaining estate. The other half passes equally to the descendants.
These are your minimum rights. As the surviving spouse, you can also take your elective share which guarantees 30% of your spouse’s assets. You’d receive this percentage even if your spouse totally disinherited you.
Florida also grants a $18,000 family allowance to cover living expenses as you adjust to your new reality.
Distribution to Heirs If No Surviving Spouse
What if you’re single, divorced, or your spouse predeceases you? How does Florida distribute your estate if you die without a will or surviving spouse?
Your assets would pass to descendants like children or grandchildren. They would inherit equal shares of the estate per stirpes, meaning grandchildren inherit their parent’s share if the parent is deceased.
If no descendants exist, assets go to your parents. If your parents are deceased, then your siblings would be next in line. More distant relatives like nieces, nephews, aunts, and uncles may inherit if you have no closer family.
This chain of distribution shows how your estate provides for those closest to you under Florida’s intestacy laws.
Exceptions and Items That Don’t Pass by Intestate Succession
Not all assets go through intestate probate, however. While Florida’s intestacy law controls most probate property, certain accounts and jointly owned property are exempt.
Let’s look at the exceptions. Joint bank accounts, retirement accounts like 401(k)s with a named beneficiary, and life insurance payouts all bypass probate. They’ll transfer directly to the joint owner or named beneficiary.
For married couples, only your one-half of community property is subject to intestate succession. The surviving spouse retains their half. Any separate property brought into the marriage or acquired by gift or inheritance also stays outside your probate estate.
Bottom line? Accounts with properly designated beneficiaries don’t require probate and avoid intestate distribution.
The Florida Probate Process for Intestate Estates
Settling an intestate estate in Florida follows a court-monitored probate process. It ensures proper payment of debts and legal distribution of assets to heirs.
An estate administrator handles tasks like locating assets, inventorying the estate, paying valid creditor claims, and ultimately distributing remaining property to rightful heirs. This role is similar to an executor named in a will but with court oversight.
Intestate probate includes required notices to creditors and family members. Creditors have 90 days to file claims after initial publication, and the administrator must pay legitimate debts.
Florida probate takes a minimum of 3 months but often lasts 9-12 months, especially for larger or contested estates. Throughout the process, the probate judge monitors case progress and must approve distribution.
Get Your Estate Plan in Place
As you can see, Florida law leaves no asset distribution to chance. The state has clear succession rules if someone dies intestate. But there are downsides, like limited control and probate delays.
The best way to decide who receives your property while avoiding intestate probate? Implement an estate plan. Work with a FL estate planning attorney at Vollrath Law to create a customized will, trusts, and beneficiary designations that express your wishes.