Consequences of Dying Without a Will
When considering the future, it’s important for everyone over the age of 18 to create a legally recognized estate plan which includes a will. Dying without a will often results in problems for your surviving family and friends and opens the door to a long probate process.
Remember the creation of a last will and testament is not for “old people” or just “rich people.” Even if your only asset is the house you own, passing away without a last will and testament can severely cripple your ability to pass that asset on to an intended beneficiary. For example, maybe you are estranged from your parents and ideally you want your home to go your beloved long term partner. Without a properly prepared will, your wants are worth nothing. Your will is the way to instruct how you want your home and other cherished belongings be distributed.
No Legal Recognition for Beneficiaries
The primary purpose of a last will and testament in the state of Florida rests with the ability to provide legal recognition for the beneficiaries, meaning you name the specific family member or friend who is to get your things – money, property, etc.
There’s an old business saying, “Always get it in writing.” While that generally refers to work contracts, it can apply to estate planning. If you don’t put down your final wishes regarding your assets and belongings, then your so called beneficiaries will not have the legal standing to receive anything. A will is the standard document for “putting it in writing.”
For example, if your grandfather told you that he intended to leave you his beloved 1965 Mustang car when he passed, his desires would not be recognized without a legal document stating that specific gift. It would not matter if you could remember every detail of that promise, including the date and time it was made. Without the legal assurances provided by a last will and testament, you likely would not have no legal backing to enforce your grandpa’s wish. The car may end up sold off as part of his estate and the money kept by his nearest next of kin or used to pay off creditors!
By default, a person who passes away without a last will and testament leaves the estate to be resolved through an intestate process. As intestate means dying without a will, there has to be a process by which the court will distribute the estate. This can include paying off creditors who can make a legal claim to be paid. Though you want to check the laws of your state, the process generally means how the estate will be passed to surviving family members.
Under Florida law, the intestate hierarchy starts with the spouse of the deceased individual. If no spouse exists, the parents stand to inherit the estate, followed by siblings, children, and other relatives. As you can see, this can lead to complicated family challenges regarding an estate, which could lead to arguments and legal fights. For example what if your father was separated from his wife and was eventually going to divorce her, if he dies without a will, his estranged wife is first in line to inherit everything.
Make a Good Estate Plan Which Includes a Will
It is a simple fix. Get with a competent estate planning attorney and draw up a basic will and other needed items such as a living will and power of attorney. Over time you can revisit and adjust your estate plan as your life changes – marriage, children, increases in income and assets, divorce, second marriages. You may even get heavily involved with a charitable cause and eventually want to will a large portion of your estate to a non profit such as local community food bank or the United Way.
In Naples, Florida, James Nici is a licensed Florida attorney since 1994, and is Board Certified in Wills, Trusts and Estates since 2000. His Nici Law Firm, founded in 2011, attends to the estate planning needs of his clients especially the unique legal needs of individuals retiring to Florida. They also provide highly sophisticated tax and estate planning for high net worth clients in addition to asset protection planning and corporate legal services.
It’s vital to create an estate plan as soon as possible, no matter your age or circumstances, to avoid dying without a will.