A person who dies without a will is said to have died “intestate.” When that happens the distribution of the decedent’s property is governed by Florida’s intestacy statute. If the decedent was married but had no children, all the assets pass to the surviving spouse. If there are children, grandchildren or any other descendants of the decedent still living, and the surviving spouse has no children by anyone else, the spouse also gets the entire estate.
However, if the spouse has living descendants not related to the decedent (for instance, from a prior marriage), then the spouse will receive half the estate and the other half will be divided among the decedent’s descendants. If there is no surviving spouse, the assets would go first to any living descendants, then to parents, siblings and other, more distant relatives, in that order. In the rare case in which no heirs whatsoever can be found, the estate would go to the State of Florida.
When distributing an intestate estate to descendants, Florida law provides the assets be distributed “per stirpes.” What this means is that each member of a generation will be designated a share, even if that member is deceased. A deceased person’s share is divided among that person’s descendants. For example, if a man dies intestate and has three children, one of whom has died before him, but who had two children of her own before she died, then the original decedent’s two surviving children would each get one-third of the estate, and the third that would have gone to the deceased child would be divided among her two children (so they would each receive one-sixth).
As these examples demonstrate, in most cases you are better off doing effective estate planning, so that your property will pass to the beneficiaries you choose. If you have questions about estate planning, or your own place in an intestate situation, you may wish to consider consulting an experienced Florida estate planning attorney.
Source: The Florida Bar, “Probate in Florida Pamphlet,” accessed, Dec. 8, 2014