Answers to Questions about Florida Will Law

The passing of a loved one is typically a difficult time, but during the grieving process legal matters still need to be handled. Many times, reviewing of the deceased's will can add to an already stressful time.

At Statewide Probate, we are often asked questions about Florida law regarding wills and probate administration. Below, we have provided you with answers to some of the will-related questions our estate attorneys have been asked.

What if the deceased left no will?

First, be sure there is no will. Just because you do not quickly find one does not mean there is not one in a safety deposit box or hidden away with other papers. If the deceased stated before death that he or she had no will, then you can be fairly sure there was none. If there is no will, Florida has an "intestate succession" law which states that certain persons receive the estate. If there is a surviving spouse but no “lineal descendants” (children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, natural or adoptive), then the spouse gets the entire estate. If there are lineal descendants, the spouse gets at least half the estate, but the descendants get some part also. If there is no surviving spouse and no lineal descendants, then the estate goes to any surviving parents of the deceased. If no parents, then it goes to other relatives of the deceased, starting with brothers and sisters. Many times this intestate succession is not exactly what the deceased would have wanted, which is one reason why a will is a good idea.

What if we cannot find the original will but only a copy?

This is a problem. Probate courts in Florida will not accept copies except through a time-consuming and expensive hearing process, with live testimony, to “establish a lost will.”  If the will provides for the same distribution as the “intestate succession” law (see preceding question), then usually there is no reason to go through the expense, delay and uncertainty of trying to “establish the lost will.” Where the will provides for a different distribution, then sometimes the lost will just has to be established regardless of cost.

When do grandchildren inherit a share and when do they not, when there is no Last Will?

Intestate succession (no will) is “per stripes” (by the roots) but the “root search” stops when it finds an heir. This means that if a property owner dies unmarried with three surviving children who each have one child but the property owner also has a predeceased child who left one surviving child (who is therefore the grandchild of the property owner), then the Florida property is now owned by four persons. Each surviving child owns 25%, and the grandchild whose parent is dead owns 25%. The grandchildren whose parent is alive inherit nothing.

My mother left everything to my sister and nothing to me. Can she do that?

If you are over the age of 18, yes, she can, provided that no grounds exist to set aside the will. Adult children can be disinherited in a will in Florida. Minor children may have certain rights to homestead property.

Schedule a Free Probate Administration Consultation

Hopefully the above answers and the answers to other frequently asked probate administration questions were helpful, but we understand that every situation is different. To get your other probate administration questions answered and to find out how Statewide Probate can help with your estate's legal needs, schedule a free 20-minute consultation at our Florida probate law firm. We offer lower alternatives to the set probate fees that other Florida attorneys charge. Find out why we have clients with estates throughout the state, including Pensacola, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Meyers, Orlando, Sarasota, and West Palm Beach.