In Florida, when people die without leaving a will, probate courts decide who gets the deceased’s assets and who acts as the estate’s personal representative. This could also happen if a will is found to be invalid. The deceased is said to be intestate, and his or her assets will be distributed to heirs, but this only applies to assets that were owned singly by the deceased or that were jointly owned but did not have a provision for succession upon death. Only in the event that a person does not have heirs will probate assets be taken by the state.

Florida law uses a system for naming heirs to determine who gets probate assets. A surviving spouse will typically inherit the assets if there are no descendants or if the only living descendants are related both to the deceased and the spouse. Descendants might include children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. If the deceased had a descendant unrelated to the spouse, such as a child from a previous marriage, the descendant or descendants split half of the assets. The spouse gets the other half.

When people die unwed, assets go to the descendants. Each child gets an equal share. In the event that a child has died, his or her children will evenly split their parent’s share. If there are no living descendants, the deceased’s parents will get the probate assets. Siblings will only inherit assets if there are no living parents, descendants or a spouse. More remote relatives could inherit if the person had no living siblings either.

Probate is complicated process that does not take into account the wishes of the deceased. An attorney could help prevent probate, sparing the family, and ensure that people’s wishes are followed upon their death by helping to create a comprehensive estate plan.

Luis E. Barreto