Every now and then, someone asks me: “What happens if I die without a Last Will?” The short answer is: The State decides and approves (1) where your assets go and (2) who distributes them to your beneficiaries. And depending on what types of assets you own, your estate will probably also have to be probated, which means a court case must be opened to transfer your estate.
If you die without a Last Will, the State decides who gets your things. That’s right… Florida law (the “intestacy” statute) determines who receive your assets. If you’re married and your spouse is also the parent of all of your children, your spouse receives everything. If you’re married and have children from a prior relationship, your spouse receives one-half of your assets, and your children split the other half equally. If you’re single, your children get your estate in equal shares. If you’re single with no children, your heirs receive your estate. (“Heirs” are your extended family; first your parents, then your siblings, and then your nieces/nephews.)
The State also decides who distributes your things. The intestacy law gives a preference in appointment to certain people, first your spouse and then your children from oldest to youngest. If your family is unable or unwilling to serve, then any “interested person/party” can step forward and serve as the personal representative, including other beneficiaries or creditors.
And finally, depending upon what you own, your estate will likely have to go through the court system to be transferred to your beneficiaries. For example, if you own (1) real property (a home or land), (2) small business interests, or (3) accounts/life insurance policies that don’t have named beneficiaries, a probate case must be opened, and a judge and attorney will authorize and oversee the transfer of your estate. This process takes time and costs money.
If you’d like to make your own decisions about who receives your things and administers your estate and, importantly, you want your assets to transfer quickly and smoothly, you should strongly consider doing some estate planning. If we can help you have peace of mind about your affairs, please contact us at (813) 244-7758 or Ross@RossSpanoLaw.com.