Estate planning with blended families can prove challenging under the best of circumstances. But this recent Market Watch column raises a nightmare scenario that’s popping up far too often in the time of COIVD-19. A column reader explained that his father died without a will, leaving behind the reader, their sister, and stepmother. The stepmother lawyered up and told her late husband’s children that unless they signed over their rights to the estate, she would put everything through probate, including cherished family heirlooms.
Unfortunately, this heartbreaking scenario plays out in blended families across the country every day. It’s easy to put off planning end of life issues. Death is something none of us want to think about, but planning can allow you to care for your family and distribute your estate in the way you choose.
The Probate Estate
When someone dies without a will in Florida, the law determines the probate estate distribution. Not all assets are part of the probate estate. Probate assets are those owned solely by the decedent or owned jointly with others with no automatic succession upon death. For example, bank accounts or property owned jointly with a right of survivorship are not part of the probate estate. Life insurance policies with a direct beneficiary and retirement accounts with beneficiaries are automatically transferred to the beneficiaries and are not part of the probate estate. In many cases, how a property is titled will determine whether the asset becomes part of the probate estate.
Dying Intestate in Florida
For property that is part of the probate estate, Florida law determines who will inherit the assets:
Spouse only: If someone dies with only a spouse and no children, the spouse inherits the entire estate.
Children only: If someone dies with children and no spouse, the children will equally split the estate.
Spouse and children: If someone dies with a spouse and children shared with the spouse, the spouse inherits the entire estate. If the deceased has additional living children, the spouse inherits half the estate, and all of the descendants share the other half in equal parts.
No spouse and no children: If someone dies with no children and no spouse, the decedent’s probate estate will pass to their living parents. If the parents are not living, then to the decedent’s siblings.
No heirs: If someone dies with no children, spouse, parents, or siblings, Florida intestate laws pass the estate on to more remote heirs.
There are exceptions for homestead and personal property, but dying without a will in Florida means that the law, rather than your wishes, will prevail after you die.
Gain Peace of Mind
With some advanced planning, you may be able to limit your probate assets or avoid probate entirely. You can also plan for your family and how you would distribute your assets. If you need to begin the estate planning process or need to revise your estate plan, we can help. At Veliz Katz Law, we work hard to support our clients with the legal services they need during these turbulent times.