What Happens If I Die Without An Estate Plan?
An estate plan determines how and to whom your property will pass after you die. An estate plan may consist of a will, a trust, beneficiary designations on insurance and investments account or a combination of these and other devices. Without a legally executed estate plan, state law determines how and to whom your property will pass.
In the state of Florida, if you die without a will or other legal estate plan, your surviving spouse and/or children will inherit your estate. If ALL your children are also your spouse’s children, your spouse inherits everything – UNLESS your spouse has children who were not your children, in which case your spouse inherits only one half of your estate and your children the other half. Or, if you have children with someone other than your surviving spouse, those your children have rights to one half of your estate.
If you had no children and no spouse, the estate would pass to your parents, if alive. If not, to your brothers and sisters or your nieces and nephews. From there you look to aunts, uncles and cousins on both the maternal and paternal sides of your family tree. If no one survives in your family bloodline, then the state will look for the family of a spouse who may have died before you.
Sound confusing? Do you even know the people who may receive your hard earned estate? Does the “state plan” reflect your desired “estate plan”?
Just as important as the “who” of an estate plan is the “how” of the plan.
Even if the state’s plan matches your wishes, the absence of advanced estate planning may delay the ability of your family to access your estate property. Bank accounts and other assets may be frozen until a probate case is opened and a court order issued. Depending on the complexity of the estate issues, the probate process could be quite lengthy and quite costly for your family. In addition, the state’s plan doesn’t take into account the special needs of a disabled spouse or child – resulting in potential loss of government benefits due to the inheritance.
An estate plan can ensure that funds are immediately available for your family, can simplify or avoid probate, can provide for the special needs of family members to avoid the loss of government benefits.
Life is hazardous, and it’s never too early to think about starting the estate planning process. If you care about the ultimate home for your possessions after you pass away, it’s worth taking the time to sit down and distribute your assets properly, with or without outside legal assistance. Just make sure that all your documents are in order so that when the time comes, your loved ones are secure.