How To Protect Against “Lost Heirs” In Probate
You have worked your whole life to build up your estate. Regardless of whether your legacy is a vast and sprawling estate or a modest balance in a bank account, you deserve to have the final say in how your estate will be divided and inherited. This may become particularly important to you if there are certain family members you are estranged from, and you want to ensure that they do not collect on your estate after you are gone.
Florida law does not dictate who you may or may not leave shares in your estate to. However, Florida does follow the law of intestate succession. This means that if you pass away without forming a valid will then your estate will go to your closest surviving relative. If you do execute a valid will then the terms of the will can dictate exactly what goes to whom. This can allow you to disinherit any family member who otherwise would have received a portion of the estate had you passed away without a will and the estate went into intestate probate. (There is an exception to this rule, as your spouse can claim a statutory-ensured share of your estate.)
While executing a valid will can allow you to disinherit family members who would otherwise benefit from your estate, it will be important in the settlement of your estate that your will acknowledges the existence of individuals who would normally inherit whom you are disinheriting. For example, if you are estranged from your brother Harry, who would otherwise inherit from your estate, and you do not want him to be entitled to a share, it is not advisable to just write your will as if Harry does not exist. Instead, you should write the will in a way that acknowledges Harry’s existence and contact information and clearly state that he will not inherit anything from the estate.
The above strategy is necessary because, under Florida law, even if you have a validly executed will your estate will go into probate to be settled. As part of the probate process, your personal representative must notify all persons written into your will as “beneficiaries” of shares in your estate – these are those individuals who will receive money/property. Your personal representative must also contact any other person, even estranged family members, who would have inherited had you not executed a valid will and inform them that your estate is in probate. This means that the Probate Court will require your personal representative to notify all persons who are related to you closely enough that they could claim they are entitled to a share of the estate, even if they are not mentioned in your will. If your personal representative does not have the contact information of an individual they need to contact, that person is referred to as a “lost heir.” (note that being an “heir” does not mean that you have left the individual a share of the estate.) The estate cannot settle until all of these identified individuals have been notified of the probate.
Contact Suncoast Civil Law to discuss your estate-planning needs
We know that you have worked too hard over your lifetime building your legacy to have it languish unsettled in probate court. The experienced Sarasota wills & probate lawyers at Suncoast Civil Law are well-versed and capable professionals with the experience to ensure your estate plan is built to solidly and smoothly sail through the probate process and settle quickly. Contact our office today to discuss your case.