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What Happens When a Loved One Dies Without a Will?

After the death of a spouse, parent or another family member, the loss can be overwhelming to those left behind. But handling that person’s estate can be nearly as overwhelming, especially when the deceased didn’t have a will.

When someone in Florida dies intestate — without a will — a probate court directs the distribution of assets according to state law. Heirs typically include spouses, children or grandchildren and sometimes all of the above.

While that may sound fairly simple, probate cases involving intestate estates are rarely straightforward. Think of an uncle or parent who never spoke to family members about his financial affairs or what he wanted after his death. With no written will stating one’s wishes and nothing documenting property holdings, family members are often left holding the pieces, following the financial breadcrumb trail wherever it leads them.

If you find yourself handling the affairs of a relative without a will or think you may be entitled to inherit some of their estate, contact an experienced probate lawyer right away. In court, a probate judge appoints an individual or institution to serve as the estate’s personal representative — the term Florida uses for executor. When a person dies intestate in Florida, the decedent’s spouse has the first right to be appointed to serve as personal representative. But if the spouse declines this task or the decedent had no surviving spouse, then that person’s children or grandchildren may select a personal representative.

Whether you are entitled to inherit and how much you inherit depends on several factors, including whether you are the decedent’s spouse and, if so, whether you have children. In Florida intestate cases where the surviving spouse and decedent have children, the spouse inherits everything unless the surviving spouse also has children who are not descendants of the deceased. In that case, the surviving spouse would share half of the inheritance with the decedent’s children.

Debt also complicates the process, affecting the amount of inheritance to beneficiaries. After funeral expenses, creditors must be paid first in the probate process. Also, any income taxes owed — including for the year in which the decedent died — must be paid before the estate’s assets can be distributed to heirs.

When you are tasked with administering an intestate estate, a skilled probate attorney can be a great help. Bankier, Arlen & Snelling Law Group, PLLC offers comprehensive wills and probate legal services to Palm Beach County clients. Call us at 561-278-3110 or contact us online for help with your probate matter. We return calls promptly and are ready to answer your questions right away.

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