Big Extended Family, No Will
Intestacy is the legal term for when a person passes away without a validly executed last will and testament (a “will”) in place. People pass away without a will all the time. Recently, we represented a personal representative of a sizable, intestate estate administration (probate). Not only did the deceased not have a will, but they did not have any children, no siblings, no living parents, or living grandparents. To whom did their assets pass? Under these circumstances, we looked at the deceased’s aunts and uncles and descendants of deceased aunts and uncles. In this case, there were 4 deceased aunts and uncles, 3 of whom had living children in this matter. Beyond that, there were 2 deceased first cousins that also had children. Identifying beneficiaries and their interests is a critical part of a Florida estate administration.
All intestate estates require an affidavit of heirs to be prepared, signed and filed so the court is well informed of the beneficiaries’ family tree. One way to do this is for a family member to attest to these facts. If that is not possible, then the only way to conduct a reasonably diligent search is to obtain an heir search in order to prepare the affidavit. This can be done through an outside agency or private investigation firm. We have used this service on several matters. Luckily, in this instance, the personal representative knew enough family members to create a literal family tree document. We attached the family tree to the affidavit of heirs in the initial filing package to ensure that the court would be able to follow along with the succession of each beneficiary according to the laws of intestacy and identify the proper heirs in the Florida formal estate administration
The key in this estate administration was that we had to keep communication open with each of the 10 beneficiaries throughout the process in order to keep the estate administration moving along. While there were other challenges, to which we will discuss in a separate case study, we were eventually, successfully able to distribute several hundreds of thousands of dollars to each beneficiary.
Although we were successful in the administration of this Florida estate and transferring a large inheritance to the intestate beneficiaries, a lot of this could have been avoided if the deceased had prepared and executed an estate plan. Throughout this process, we learned that the deceased did not know these family members well, if at all and may have wanted his estate to pass in a different manner. A person still needs to have an estate plan, even if they don’t have close family members. Otherwise, you are rolling the dice on what happens both in terms of inheritance, but also in terms of the process.