When someone dies without a will things can get complicated. Who is responsible for making decisions? How do you know who inherits which assets? When there is no will to name a personal representative or beneficiaries, it can be difficult for a family to know where to begin when it comes to handling their loved one’s property.

Fortunately, every state has laws that govern how property and assets of a deceased person, known as a decedent, will pass to their heirs when a decedent dies without a valid will. called intestate succession. Intestate succession laws provide guidance for determining beneficiaries of the decedent’s assets that would have been determined by the decedent’s will.

Under Florida law, the decedent’s estate in inherited according to a prescribed hierarchy of family members.

  • Spouses – If the decedent was married and had no children, grandchildren great-grandchildren, etc., called lineal descendants, the spouse inherits all of the decedent’s assets. The same is true if the decedent had lineal descendants whose living parent is also the surviving spouse of the decedent. 
  • Children – When the decedent has children whose living parent is not the surviving spouse, the assets are split between the decedent’s spouse and children: The surviving spouse inherits half, and the children divide the other half. 
  • Parents – In cases where the decedent has no surviving spouse or lineal descendants, the decedent’s parents are next to inherit the assets of the decedent.
  • Siblings – Finally, if the decedent had no surviving spouse, lineal descendants, or living parents, any surviving siblings would share the inheritance.

Intestate Succession Laws Cover Some, But Not All Cases

Assets that are jointly held (between spouses or with rights of survivorship), or held in a living trust will are not subject to intestate succession. Those assets move from the decedent to the joint spouse by operation of law, or from trust to the beneficiaries by a separate legal process.

Because intestate succession laws only recognize legal relatives, unmarried couples do not inherit their partner’s assets through intestate succession.

Probate May Be Required 

It is important to know that intestate succession does not automatically transfer the assets from the decedent to the heirs. The decedent’s estate may require probate in order to transfer the assets to their heirs. An experienced probate attorney can help you get through the legal process smoothly.

The probate lawyers at the Kissimmee Law Firm of Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie & Finkenbinder are highly experienced in helping families through these challenging circumstances. Call us at 407-847-5151 for a confidential consultation, and we’ll tell you how we can help your family navigate the probate process smoothly.

You can find just about anything online these days and that include wills and estate planning documents. It can be very tempting to create your will online. It’s a quick process, you can do it from the comfort of home, it remains entirely private, and it costs less than consulting an attorney for help drafting a last will and testament.

However, online wills are not the right choice for everyone and may be more expensive in the long run. Here are some of our concerns with online wills.

 Considerations Before Completing An Online Will

  1. It’s a generic document. Online wills are generic forms that may not meet your needs. The rigid wording may make it impossible to properly manage your assets or have your last wishes fulfilled. These generic forms are not a good option if you have assets that will make your estate subject to the estate tax, if you own a small business, or if you have a complicated family tree involving re-marriages, stepchildren, properties in multiple states, or if you think someone might contest your will. In general, the more complex your estate, the greater the need to consult a wills and trusts attorney.
  2. It’s easy to overlook important details. Since online wills are so generic, anyone who uses one runs the risk of missing important details specific to their own situation. Meeting face-to-face with a wills and trusts attorney will ensure all of the relevant questions are asked and the details specific to your life are included in the will. Wills made with the assistance of an attorney will also include a residuary clause. This clause is a catchall for anything not expressly mentioned in the will. Not all online wills offer this clause.
  3. It may not remain current. Sometimes wills are made and forgotten. Without the oversight provided by an attorney it’s possible that heirs born after the will was made could be cut out of the will inadvertently. A will should be considered a living document, subject to occasional review and amendments, particularly when major life events occur. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and property acquisition are all examples of events that could change your wishes regarding your estate. An online will service will not check in with you occasionally to ensure your will is up to date; an attorney will.
  4. It may not be valid. Most jurisdictions have specific requirements regarding the language contained in wills and how they are to be executed. With 50 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, it is critical that the will be valid in the jurisdiction in which it was executed. If the will is not valid your estate will be treated as if there is no will and property will be divided according to the intestate laws of your state rather than your will.

Generic Forms Are No Substitute For Professional Advice From A Wills and Trusts Attorney

The point of creating a will is to protect your loved ones and help manage your assets upon your death. While do-it-yourself wills may appear to offer you a way to accomplish this task on your own, this is definitely a buyer beware and a “you get what you pay for” type of situation. Online wills are generalized to meet the needs of the most people possible. That means they may not accomplish your specific objectives; they are not a suitable substitute for an estate plan.

Having your will prepared by a qualified attorney is more affordable than you might realize and comes with the peace of mind of knowing that the document will meet your exact needs and takes into account all facets of your estate and family situation. The cost of having a will professionally prepared by a wills and trusts attorney at Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie & Finkenbinder, P.A. is well worth the protection it provides and can save your beneficiaries many headaches after your death.

Contact us at 407.847.5151 to learn more about our will and estate planning services and discuss your situation or arrange a consultation online.

Once the shock and surprise of a loved ones death eases, there is work to do. Namely, paperwork. It’s important to locate all of the important documents your loved one had in order to expedite the closing of the estate, but many people have no idea where to even begin. To help make the process easier for you, we’ve created this list of important papers that you’ll need to find after the death of a loved one.

Checklist of Important Papers

Death Certificates. You will need multiple original copies of the death certificate to submit to the Probate court, financial institutions, and life insurance companies, etc.

Estate Planning Documents.

  • Last Will and Testament and Codicil(s). Must be originals.
  • Living Trust and Amendment(s).

Asset Information.

  • Financial Account Statements
  • Life Insurance Policies
  • Real Estate Deeds
  • Auto and Boat Titles
  • Stock and Bond Certificates

Business Documents. These documents only apply to business owners.

  • Corporate, LLC, or Partnership Documents
  • Financial Account Statements
  • Vehicle Titles
  • Contracts such as leases, loans, and employment agreements.
  • Income Tax Returns

 Contracts and Agreements.

  • Pre- and Postnuptial Agreements and amendments
  • Mortgage/ Promissory Notes owed to the deceased person
  • Property Leases

 Bills.

  • Mortgages, Loans, and Lines of Credit
  • Real Estate Tax Bills
  • Medical Bills
  • Funeral Bill
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Utility bills

 Tax Returns.

  • Personal Income Tax Returns.
  • Business Tax Returns (if applicable)
  • Gift Tax Returns

Consult An Estate Planning Attorney For Assistance After The Death Of A Loved One

Planning ahead is one of the best ways to stay ahead when a death occurs in the family. We strongly encourage all families to create a file of important documents, passwords, and/or where to find this information upon their deaths. Doing so will make the passing easier on loved one who are left behind to manage the estate and will greatly ease an already stressful situation.

For help developing an estate plan, creating a will or trust, or managing probate, contact the estate planning attorneys at Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie & Finkenbinder, P.A, online or by calling 407.847.5151.

Transferring property after the death of a loved one is one of the most common issues our probate attorneys manage. After a property owner dies, the heirs, trustee, or personal representative will need to properly document the transfer of property ownership from the deceased property owner (or “decedent”) to their beneficiaries.

How a Florida property title is transferred depends on the type of property ownership held by the decedent and whether or not there was a will. Oftentimes, the property will need to go through the probate process.

Transferring Property Without Probate

Probate can generally be avoided is the property is held in the name of a trust or if the property deed shows the decedent owned the property with another person, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants by the entirety.

  • Trusts. Trusts are similar to a will in that they can dictate to whom property is to be transferred upon the trust maker’s (or Grantor’s) death. If the property was held in the name of the trust, a named trustee has the power to transfer property in accordance with the terms of the trust.
  • Joint Ownership with Survivorship Rights. If the property was held by the decedent and another person, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, title to the property automatically passes to the surviving owner. The surviving owner will have to record a death certificate with the county’s clerk of courts, but probate is not needed.
  • Tenancy by the Entirety. This form of joint ownership is limited to married couples. In tenants by the entirety, the property is owned by the married couple as a whole, not as individual owners. Therefore, when one spouse dies, property ownership passes to the surviving spouse automatically. When a married couple purchases a home, Florida law actually presumes that they intend to own property together unless they specify otherwise.

Transferring Property Through Probate

Probate is necessary when the property owner held title individually, or with another person as tenants in common.

  • Individual Ownership. If the decedent owned the property individually, it will likely have to go through the probate process to transfer ownership to the heirs or beneficiaries.
  • With a Will. If the decedent has a Will, property is generally transferred to the named beneficiary through the probate process. The Will names a personal representative who , after being appointed by the probate court, is given authority to transfer ownership of the property in accordance with the terms of the Will..
  • Without a Will. When someone dies without a Will, they leave behind an “intestate” estate. In these cases, a personal representative will be appointed by the probate court to transfer ownership of the decedent’s property in accordance with Florida law known as intestate succession. Intestate succession determines the heirs of the decedent’s property; typically the surviving spouse, children, and/or next of kin.
  • Tenants in Common. If the decedent owned property with another person, other than their spouse, it is presumed they are tenants in common. Tenants in common each own an equal share of the property. The Decedents share of the property would be transferred to their heirs or beneficiaries through the probate process.

Keep in mind that state law dictates how property can be transferred. If you aren’t a Florida resident, the requirements may be different.

Meet With A Probate Attorney To Review Property Status

If you are uncertain about how to transfer property in Florida after the death of a loved one, contact one of our probate attorneys for advice consultation. A probate attorney can review the situation and advise you as to whether or not probate is required and guide you through the process. It is better to take a proactive approach and verify the decedent’s ownership and properly transfer their interest to the heirs or beneficiaries before trying to sell or reside in the property since documentation of the ownership transfer may be necessary.

To learn more about the probate services at Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie & Finkenbinder, P.A, contact us at 407.847.5151.

Life is full of the unexpected. But just because the future is unpredictable does not mean adults cannot prepare for what lies ahead. Preparing an estate plan and establishing a power of attorney can be essential to protecting your financial resources and other assets.

What is power of attorney? A power of attorney, or “POA”, is a legal document that allows a person, the “Principal”, to appoint another person, the “Agent”, to manage his or her affairs.

What is covered?

An Agent may perform the acts specified in the POA. Several acts may be allowed by reference to the Florida Statutes governing the Agent’s authority1, such as:

  • Banking transactions;
  • Buying or selling property;
  • Executing a will.

Some acts require the Principal to specifically list the powers granted to the Agent2, such as:

  • Changing beneficiary designations;
  • Creating a living trust.

A POA may be very broad or limited to a specific act depending on the language in the document. The most commonly used is a Durable POA, which means the document will remain in effect if a person becomes mentally incompetent. There was a substantial change in Florida Law regarding powers of attorney in 2011. Prior to October 1, 2011, Florida law allowed for a “springing” POA, which do not go into effect until the Principal becomes incapacitated. The “springing” POA is no longer recognized and now, all powers of attorney are effective upon signing.

Why is power of attorney needed?

Many people believe their family will be able to step in and handle their affairs if they are unable to do so. Unfortunately, this is not true unless a person is named as an agent or granted legal access to financial, medical and other pertinent information. Therefore it is important that the Principal have a POA in place before the unexpected happens. If you’re considering establishing a POA or have already done so, consult with a Florida estate planning attorney to explain the powers you are granting to your agent and ensure your documents are validly executed.

1See Florida Statutes § 709.2201 and 709.2208

2See Florida Statute § 709.2202

3See Florida Statute § 709.2108

Jennifer R. Bondy
Partner
Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie & Finkenbinder P.A.

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When someone passes away they may leave behind property that becomes part of their “estate”. The estate goes through the probate process in Florida, where the judge will appoint a personal representative to oversee the administration of the estate. The personal representative can be an individual, a bank, or a trust company as long as they meet certain requirements.

In Florida, an individual can be a personal representative if they are:

  • Either a Florida resident or a spouse, sibling, parent, child or other close relative of the decedent,
  • Over 18 years of age,
  • Mentally and physically able to fulfill the duties, and
  • Free of felony convictions.

Trust companies, banks or savings and loan companies may be appointed to serve as the personal representative if they are incorporated under Florida Law and authorized to exercise fiduciary powers.

In other states, the personal representative may be known as an executor or administrator of the estate. Whichever term you use, the duties are the same: to administer the probate estate in accordance with state law.

Responsibilities Of The Personal Representative

The personal representative has many responsibilities throughout the Florida probate process. Their primary job is to settle the decedent’s estate. Major responsibilities include:

  • Identify and collect the decedent’s probate assets;
  • Identify and provide notice to creditors regarding decedent’s passing;
  • Pay claims filed against the estate;
  • Defend the estate against improper claims;
  • File and pay taxes;
  • Hire professionals for probate administration (attorneys, accountants, etc.);
  • Pay the expenses of administering the estate from estate funds;
  • Distribute assets to beneficiaries;
  • Close the estate

These are just some of the responsibilities that the personal representative will be asked to perform; there may be other duties, depending on the specifics of the estate.

Why Personal Representatives Need A Probate Attorney

In most cases, Florida law requires an attorney to represent the personal representative in the probate proceeding. Probate attorneys ensure the personal representatives handle the probate process correctly, file necessary documents in Probate court, and also help protect representatives from potential liability. For example, if a personal representative mismanages the probate estate, he or she can be held personally liable for any misconduct or errors. Probate attorneys can help representatives avoid personal liability while still meeting their obligations.

To learn more about the probate services at Overstreet, Miles, Cumbie & Finkenbinder, P.A, contact us at 407.847.5151.

Losing a loved one is never easy, and it can be even more overwhelming when that loved one fails to leave a will behind. When there is no will to name a personal representative or beneficiaries, it can be difficult for a family to know where to begin when it comes to handling the decedent’s property. However, when there’s not a will, there’s still a way!

Below, we will briefly discuss what typically happens when a person, known as the decedent, dies without a will; how intestate succession laws work; and how to get started if you have a relative who passes away without a will.

Fortunately, every state has laws that govern how property and assets will pass to the heirs when a decedent’s estate is not disposed of by a valid will. This is called intestate succession. Intestate succession laws provide guidance for determining beneficiaries of the decedent’s assets that would have been determined by the decedent’s will. Not all assets are governed by intestate succession laws. Some assets, including, but not limited to, property held in the name of a living trust or jointly owned property, are not subject to intestate succession and pass from the decedent to their beneficiaries by separate procedures regardless of the presence of a will.

In Florida, determining who inherits the decedent’s assets through intestate succession depends on the familial status of the decedent at the time of death.*

If the decedent was married: Generally speaking, if the decedent is survived by a spouse but no lineal descendants (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc.), the spouse will inherit all of the decedent’s assets. If the decedent is survived by a spouse and children, the assets will pass to the spouse if all of the children are also children of the surviving spouse. If the spouse is not the parent of the decedent’s children, the spouse will inherit one-half of the decedent’s assets and the decedent’s children will inherit the remaining half of the assets.

If the decedent was not married: If the decedent was survived by children, but no spouse,  the assets will pass to the decedent’s children, per stirpes. If the decedent is not survived by a spouse or lineal descendants, the assets pass to the decedent’s parents. If the decedent’s parents are no longer living, the siblings of decedent will inherit their assets. Because intestacy laws only recognize legal relatives, unmarried couples do not inherit their partner’s assets through intestate succession.

It is important to know that intestate succession does not automatically transfer the assets from the decedent to the heirs. The decedent’s estate will require probate in order to transfer the assets to their heirs.

If you have a relative who passes away without a will, consult with an experienced probate attorney who will help you understand Florida’s intestate succession laws and ensure the decedent’s estate is properly distributed through the probate process.

* Please refer to Chapter 732, of the Florida Statutes for further information regarding intestate succession.