Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If I don't have a Will, will the State get all my property?

By: Adam A. Czaya

Another question frequently posed by clients is what happens to their property if they don’t have a will at the time of their death. Many think that the property automatically goes to the state, while others believe the property will pass completely to their spouse. The short answer is that it depends on your family structure. 

A person who dies without a will dies intestate. This means that your property will pass according to the state’s intestate statutes (§§ 732.101-732.111). While it is not common for property to pass to the state, or escheat as it is called, this can sometimes happen.

In Florida, an individual’s estate can escheat to the state when a person dies leaving an estate without being survived by any person entitled to a part of it (F.S. § 732.107(1)). However, before your estate escheats to the State of Florida, there are a long list of individuals who may inherit the estate according to Chapter 732 of Florida’s intestate statutes, which can be found on the Florida legislature’s website, including children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, among others.

If the estate does escheat to the State of Florida, the state will then sell the property and give the proceeds to Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, who will then deposit the proceeds of the sale in the State School Fund. Even after the funds are deposited with the CFO, heirs of the intestate estate have ten years to reopen the administration and prove they are entitled to the proceeds.

Of course, if you wish to avoid this sometimes complex distribution scheme that the State of Florida has written for you, you can always write your own Last Will and Testament, which will distribute your estate according to your own wishes.

If you wish to create your will or simply to get more information about your estate planning options, please feel free to contact our office and set up a free consultation.