As we've made clear in innumerable posts, it's of vital importance for people from all walks of life to have an estate plan in place. Indeed, doing so can help ensure that assets are distributed in accordance with exact wishes, tax consequences are minimized, children are properly cared for and wishes concerning end-of-life care are established.
While we've always taken a somewhat proactive approach to this topic, it may be beneficial to change things up a bit and look at it from a perhaps more cynical perspective. Indeed, doing so might help impress upon some of the more stubborn among us as to why it's so imperative to make this decision.
In the event a person passes away without having executed even a simple will, they will be classified as "intestate." The significance of this is that while the state of Florida won't automatically seize their assets, their assets will be distributed among heirs in accordance with a distribution scheme set forth in the applicable statute.
This distribution scheme dictates that the assets of an intestate individual are to be distributed in the following order of priority:
- If the deceased is survived by their spouse and no living descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.), all of their assets will go to the surviving spouse
- If the deceased is survived by their spouse, and one or more living descendants (all of whom are descended from the deceased and the spouse), and the surviving spouse has no addition living descendants (meaning anyone not descended from the deceased), all of the assets will go to the surviving spouse
- If the deceased is survived by their spouse, and one or more living descendants (all of whom are descended from the deceased and the spouse), and the surviving spouse has addition living descendants (at least one person not descended from the deceased), the surviving spouse will get 50 percent of the assets and the descendents of the deceased will split the other 50 percent
- If the deceased was unmarried and survived by one or more descendants, the assets will be split among these descendants
- If the deceased was unmarried and survived by no descendants, the assets will be split among their surviving parents and, if both parents are deceased, among the brothers and sisters of the deceased
- If none of the above situations are applicable, Florida law will divide the assets among more remote heirs
If any of the forgoing scenarios seems unacceptable, then a person should give very serious consideration to sitting down with a skilled legal professional to learn more about how they can legally fulfill their objectives and derive some other perhaps unforeseen advantages of proper estate planning.