Florida law provides a default mechanism for the distribution of assets when an individual dies without an estate plan. This article is a summary of the Florida rules, which have been updated since the article originally appeared on the website.
Spouse: The surviving spouse will receive all of the deceased person’s estate if there are no surviving lineal descendants (children, grandchildren, etc.-we will refer to all of them as “children”) of the deceased. If the decedent left surviving child/ren, then the surviving spouse/parent will receive all of the deceased’s estate provided that all of the deceased’s children are also children of the surviving spouse/parent, AND that the surviving spouse/parent does not have any other children who are not also children of the deceased (i.e., if the deceased and/or widow/er has one or more children by previous relationship(s)). If the deceased left a child who is not also a descendant of the surviving spouse, or if the surviving spouse has a child from a previous relationship, then the surviving spouse receives only one half of the estate, and the decedent’s child/ren receive one half of the estate.
Children: See above if the decedent is survived by a spouse and child/ren. If the decedent died unmarried, the descendants receive the entire estate. Children take per stirpes, with an equal distribution at the children’s level, even if a child has predeceased the deceased parent. If you are a widow(er) survived by two children, Adam and Betty, and one child, Carl, predeceased you, and Carl left two children, David and Ethel, the distribution would be as follows: Adam : 1/3, Betty: 1/3 , David (grandchild): 1/6, Ethel (grandchild): 1/6. David and Ethel would divide their deceased father, Carl’s, share.
No Spouse, no children: With no surviving spouse or children, the estate descends to the parents, in equal shares, or to the surviving parent. If the parents are deceased, the estate goes to the brothers and sisters, per stirpes.
No Spouse, no children, no parent, and no sibling: The estate would be divided into two (2) equal shares, and distributed to the deceased person’s maternal and paternal kindred. The first level would be grandparents, then uncles and aunts, per stirpes. If there are no surviving heirs on the maternal side, all goes to the paternal side, and vice versa. If no heirs on either side survive, and the deceased person had been married, but their spouse died first, the estate goes to the heirs of the predeceased spouse. If there are no heirs, then the estate will go to the State of Florida for deposit in the State School Fund (escheat).
In many cases, the rules of intestacy are not the desired way for assets to be distributed. With a proper estate plan in place, YOU will decide who gets your property, instead of the law making the choice for you.