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Handling an estate when someone doesn't leave a last will

Serving as executor, administrator or trustee for the estate of a loved one requires a lot of work. Even in the best circumstances, this job is often fraught with emotional and legal complications. When you have to handle the estate of someone who did not leave a last will or estate plan behind, your job becomes that much more difficult.

It is critical that you handle the estate in a way that complies with Florida probate law. When there isn't a last will or estate plan on record, the estate will have to go through probate in order for the courts to address the situation.

Who has inheritance rights when there isn't a will or estate plan?

The most common question that people have when someone dies without a will is who will inherit their assets. Someone who dies without a will is said to have died intestate. Florida has specific laws about the succession of assets for people who do not have a will in place.

In a situation where the deceased has a spouse and children who share a biological connection with the spouse, the surviving spouse will inherit the full estate. In circumstances that involve a blended family and a stepparent or stepchildren, the biological children and surviving spouse will both have a claim to the assets. If the deceased had children but their spouse died before them, the children of the family will inherit the full estate.

If someone dies without leaving behind children or a spouse, their parents and other close family members will likely inherit their assets. In the event that there are no direct relatives, the full value of the estate will wind up in the possession of the state of Florida.

Keep records to prove you complied with Florida state law

You could face pressure from friends and family members of the deceased to distribute the assets of the estate in a manner contrary to state law. For example, someone with a long-term live-in partner who did not marry that person could leave their partner in a bad position if they don't create a will. That partner could ask for special consideration, such as staying in the home owned by the deceased.

While you may want to help, doing so could leave you legally vulnerable. Your best option will always be to comply with state law. You should also have documentation of every distribution of assets that you make to protect you from claims of improper administration or legal violations.

Working with an experienced probate attorney is important if you hope to navigate the probate process for an estate that doesn't include a will or estate plan.

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