Bracing for the Unknown: Coping with the Aftermath of Losing a Loved One Without a Will

picture of a pen writing a willWhen a loved one passes away in Florida, one of the first steps toward administering his or her estate is to determine whether he or she left a Will. Wills serve several important purposes, and having a Will to follow can both streamline the probate process and avoid questions about what your loved one would have wanted.

But not everyone leaves a Will. While there are a variety of reasons why, ultimately, the reason is immaterial. If a loved one has died without a Will, you simply need to take the steps that are necessary to move forward.

Understanding What Happens When a Loved One Dies Without a Will in Florida

What are these steps? Here is an overview of what happens when someone dies without a Will in Florida:

1. Initiating the Probate Process

Any time someone dies in Florida, one of the first steps is to initiate probate. Probate is the formal process for winding up a person’s final affairs, including—in many cases—distributing the assets in his or her estate.

In Florida, there are two main types of probate: formal administration and summary administration. The type of probate family members must pursue depends on the value of their loved one’s estate and a few other factors.

2. Appointing a Personal Representative

When a person leaves a Will, the Will almost always designates a personal representative. This is the person (usually a close family member) who is responsible for administering his or her final affairs. Without a Will, a personal representative must be appointed through the probate process.

3. Applying Florida’s Intestate Succession Law

To distribute a person’s probate estate in the absence of a Will, the courts apply Florida’s intestate succession law. “Intestate” simply means “without a Will.” Florida’s intestate succession law addresses all potential scenarios, including common scenarios such as:

  • Surviving Spouse and No Children – If the decedent has a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse receives 100 percent of the probate estate.
  • Surviving Children and No Spouse – If the decedent has one or more surviving children and no surviving spouse, the children divide the decedent’s estate equally.
  • No Surviving Spouse or Children – If the decedent does not have a spouse or children, then the decedent’s surviving parents would share the probate estate. If the parents are deceased, then the assets are divided between close family members per state statutes. Almost never does the property escheat or pass to the State of Florida.

4. Dealing with Non-Probate Assets

Even when a person dies without a Will, various assets may fall outside of the probate estate. Life insurance is a common example. When going through the estate administration process, it is important to address these non-probate assets as well.

5. Closing the Estate

Finally, once all assets have been distributed, it’s time to close the estate. This formally ends the probate process.

Schedule an Appointment with a Lawyer at Woodward, Pires & Lombardo, P.A.

If you are coping with the loss of a loved one and have questions about the estate administration process, we invite you to contact us for more information. To schedule a confidential consultation with an estate planning lawyer at Woodward, Pires & Lombardo, P.A., please call 239-649-6555 or tell us how we can reach you online today.

Related post: 5 Things to Consider When Planning Your Estate