If a Florida resident dies without a will, the state intestacy statute determines how the decedent’s assets will be distributed. If there is a surviving spouse with no living descendants or only descendants in common with the decedent, the surviving spouse receives all of the estate. If the surviving spouse has at least one descendant who is not also a descendant of the decedent and at least one descendant who is a descendant of the decedent, the surviving spouse receives half of the estate and the mutual descendants share the other half. If there is no surviving spouse, the property is divided among descendants according to state law. If the decedent had no surviving spouse and no living descendants, the next in line are the parents of the decedent, followed by brothers, sisters and more remote relatives.

Once the heirs are identified, the distribution of property must also follow Florida’s intestate laws. Furthermore, certain properties, such as those with a homestead exemption, are given special handling.

Having a valid will gives a person the right to name his or her heirs and specify how he or she wants property divided among them. In many cases these wishes end up being different than what would result under the intestacy statute. A will also names an executor who will act on behalf of the decedent’s estate through the distribution of all the assets from the estate and make sure the estate is closed.

Many people value input from an attorney when they are preparing estate documents. An attorney may be able to ensure that wills are prepared in compliance with state laws and result in an expeditious distribution of property to heirs.