The No-Beneficiary Estate

The No-Beneficiary Estate

Estates come in all sizes, both in the value of the estate assets and the number of people involved. Some people write Wills that name an executor and several beneficiaries. Some don’t. In fact, only about 44% of Americans have written a Will. But whether a Will exists, estate assets not disposed of in any other way must still be transferred to someone through a process known as “probate.”

A person is referred to as being ‘intestate’ if they don’t leave a Will.

Methods for administering intestate estates depend on several factors, including family structure. For example, the Florida Probate Code (the “Code”) describes how assets will be divided if the deceased person (the “decedent”) was survived by a spouse or children, but also provides for intestate succession.

When the decedent did not have obvious beneficiaries, like a surviving spouse, children, or grandchildren, estate assets are distributed as follows:

  • Estate assets pass in equal shares to the decedent’s mother and father, if both are living. If one is deceased, the surviving parent receives the entire estate.
  • Assets are distributed to the decedent’s brothers and sisters if both parents of the decedent are also deceased. The share for a deceased sibling passes to their descendants, if any.
  • If there are no parents, siblings, or descendants of siblings living, then the estate assets pass to the decedent’s paternal and maternal family. In other words, the decedent’s grandparents on mom’s and dad’s sides will receive the estate unless they have passed away, at which time the estate begins to filter through to the decedent’s aunts and uncles.

When no surviving family members can be found, settling the estate becomes a little more complicated. At that point, the estate assets will be distributed to kindred of the “last deceased spouse of the decedent as if the deceased spouse had survived the decedent and then died intestate entitled to the estate.”

Florida law also contains language that allows the estate to pass to the descendants of the decedent’s great-grandparents if any of their descendants were Holocaust victims.

And, rarely, a probate court fails to locate heirs of any kind. In that event, the estate assets would be sold, with the proceeds being paid into the State School Fund. However, claimants may reopen administration of the estate up to 10 years after that payment is made.

Estate planning is still essential.

Whether you have no direct descendants, or you have many potential heirs, estate planning provides for the neat and tidy distribution of your estate assets. However, developing your estate plan allows you to choose who will receive those assets instead of leaving it to the court system.

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