What is the process of settling an estate without a will?

last-willHaving a will prepared is something most people think about at some point in their life.  Many people think they need to have a substantial amount of wealth to have a will.  Or they think they need to own property to have a will.  And what about your minor children; do you need a will to determine what happens to them?  Yes, there are many reasons to have a will.  So what happens if you don’t have one?  How is any of your property divided up?  Where do your savings end up?

In Florida, when someone dies without a will, they are considered “intestate”.  Many times the deceased will have a surviving spouse or next of kin.  In those cases, the property would go to those surviving family members.  Florida will only take the property of a deceased person intestate if there were no surviving heirs.

There is an order for dividing property when a will is not in place.  If there is a surviving spouse, they would be awarded any assets.  In the case of no surviving spouse, the deceased’s children would be next in line.  They would be followed by grandchildren.  There are times when someone passes away with no will and has not married and has no children to pass assets down to.  In this situation those assets would go to the parents of the deceased if they were alive.  If they aren’t alive, perhaps a sibling or niece or nephew would be next in line to inherit.

There is another scenario for someone who passes without a will and has a title of his or her house in their name.  Certain exceptions for homestead laws would apply if a spouse or family member was residing in the residence.  This surviving family member would have full use of the property as long as they lived.  They also have an option to claim ½ of the value of the property in a certain amount of time.

Your assets will be divided up whether or not you have a will.  The difference will be if those assets end up where you want them to.  If you want your grandson to have your train collection, it needs to be spelled out.  If your favorite set of china is supposed to go to your sister, make sure it’s put in writing.  If you have minor children you need to specify who will assume their care if something should happen to you.   This becomes even more important if you are a single parent.  It’s best to consult an attorney about a will before it is too late.

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