You have undoubtedly been told by well-meaning friends and family member about the importance of having an estate plan in place – even if that estate plan consists of nothing more than a Last Will and Testament. Unfortunately, however, no one has taken the time to explain to you why having an estate plan is so important. Until you understand why you need an estate plan, you are probably unlikely to rush out and create one. One of the primary reasons why an estate plan is important is to avoid allowing the state intestate succession laws determine the fate of your estate assets. To help you understand why dying intestate is something you don’t want to happen, the Port St. Lucie probate attorneys at Kulas & Crawford explain the Florida intestate succession laws.
Testate vs. Intestate Estate
If you leave behind a Last Will and Testament when you die, you will have died “testate” and left behind a testate estate. If you fail to leave behind a Will, you will have died “intestate” and will have left behind an intestate estate. These terms and concepts are important because they determine how your estate is probated after your death.
What Is Probate?
When you die, you will leave behind an estate that consists of all assets owned by you at the time of your death. This includes things such as personal property, a home, bank accounts, and investments. The law requires your estate to go through the legal process known as “probate.” Probate serves several purposes, including providing the legal structure by which your estate assets are eventually transferred to the new owners. If you died testate, the terms of your Will dictate how your estate assets are handled and to whom they are transferred during the probate process. If you died intestate, the Florida laws of intestate succession determine what happens to your estate assets.
Florida Intestate Succession Laws
It is important in the eyes of the law for all assets to have an owner. Therefore, when someone dies, all of his/her estate assets must be transferred to a new owner. If the decedent failed to execute a Will, or other legal instrument that provides for the transfer of those assets (such as a trust), the state intestate succession laws take over and decide for the decedent. Intestate succession laws typically allow only close relatives to inherit from an estate. Florida is no exception. For example:
- If you leave behind children, but no spouse, your children inherit everything.
- If you leave behind a spouse but no descendants (children, grandchildren etc.), your spouse inherits everything.
- If you leave behind a spouse and descendants from you and that spouse, and the spouse has no other descendants, your spouse inherits everything.
- If you leave behind a spouse and descendants from you and that spouse, and the spouse has descendants from another relationship, your spouse inherits one-half of your estate and your descendants inherit the other one-half.
- If you leave behind a spouse and descendants from you and someone other than that spouse, your spouse inherits one-half of your estate and your descendants inherit the other one-half.
- If you leave behind parents but no spouse or descendants, your parents inherit everything.
- If you leave behind siblings, but no spouse, parents, or descendants, your siblings inherit everything.
In the unlikely event that none of the above-mentioned relatives survive you, the law will look for more distant legal heirs (relatives) to inherit your estate, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins. If you are not survived by any living heirs, your estate will escheat to the state, meaning the State of Florida inherits your estate.
If you die intestate, you give up the right to decide who receives all your assets. That promise you made to your favorite niece to leave her your Barbie collection will go unfulfilled. The charity that you have always donated to will receive nothing. You don’t even get to decide who will oversee the probate of your estate if you die intestate. This is why creating an estate plan is so important!
Contact Port St. Lucie Probate Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns regarding the Florida intestate succession laws, or you wish to get started on your estate plan, contact the experienced Port St. Lucie probate attorneys at Kulas & Crawford by calling (772) 398-0720 to schedule an appointment.