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What happens to the estate when there is a surviving spouse?

What happens if a loved one forgot to name a beneficiary for an asset that was titled in his or her name only? Keep in mind that the right of survivorship generally requires property to be jointly titled in the name of the decedent and the surviving spouse or other individual.

Depending on the value of the asset, court involvement via a probate proceeding may be required. However, the good news is that some estates in Florida may qualify for expedited probate, to the extent the total estate value is under a certain value. The particular threshold is set by each Florida county, but a common marker is around $6,000. If that sounds small, remember that state law generally exempts personal property from the estate valuation, as well as appliances and furnishings up to a certain ceiling, and possibly two motor vehicles as well.

But how does Florida estate law regard the decedent’s home? First, special rules apply to the decedent's primary residence in Florida, and it may take court involvement before the real estate can be deemed the decedent’s homestead. 

If the real estate was the decedent’s primary residence, one option for a surviving spouse with children is for the spouse to receive a life estate in the property, and the couple’s children to receive the remainder interest. If the decedent did not have children, the property might simply pass to his or her surviving spouse. Our law firm focuses on estate planning and can explain these special rules in simple language. 

Source: Online Sunshine, “732.401 Descent of homestead,” copyright 2015, the Florida Legislature

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