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What happens if I die without a will?

People who die without an estate plan nevertheless will probably have assets and debts to dispose of. If the decedent gave no valid instructions for how to distribute his or her funds, where does the money go?

In Florida as in the rest of the U.S., an estate or portion of an estate that is not disposed of via a legally accepted will is considered “intestate.” This means that the probate court must apply state law for distributing the estate’s assets.

The state statute looks to the deceased’s surviving spouse, if there is one. If the decedent was not survived by any descendants (i.e., children), the entire estate goes to the spouse. The same applies if the decedent and the surviving spouse have any surviving children, and the decedent had no other surviving children.

If the decedent had any children with someone other than his or her spouse, half of the estate goes to the spouse, and the other half goes to the outside children.

If there is no surviving spouse, who gets the inheritance depends on what surviving relatives exist. First in line is any descendant. If there are no descendants, the deceased’s parents take the estate. If the parents are not alive, the decedent’s siblings and, if they are deceased, the siblings’ descendents inherit the estate.

The list goes on, reaching as far as relatives of the deceased’s “last deceased spouse” if necessary. Obviously, the fewer the number of relatives that survive you, the more distantly related to you your heirs are likely to be if you die intestate.

This could mean that someone you barely know could inherit a big portion of what you leave behind. If that does not sound appealing to you, consider talking to an estate planning attorney about drawing up a will.

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