A will is a formal document that directs how a person’s assets will be distributed after death. Probate is the court process of administering a person’s assets (the “estate”) according to the will.
A will appoints someone to gather and distribute assets (the “personal representative”), defines who will receive the assets (the “beneficiaries”), and directs how the process will proceed. The process begins after the will has been “admitted to probate” and is supervised by the Probate Court.
Many people ask, “do I need a will?” If a person owns assets in his or her name alone and dies without a will (dies “intestate”), state statutes provide how the person’s assets will be distributed. In general, Florida statutes distribute assets according to blood relations, and not necessarily in the order you would choose. In today’s world, intestate distribution can be complicated if the deceased person (the “decedent”) is or was married, has or had children, or has a business. It can also be complicated if any of the decedent’s spouse(s), children, parents, or siblings have died or if the decedent has or had step-children.
It is important to know that intestate distribution is not automatic. It requires court intervention, can result in challenges and litigation, and can be expensive. If a Florida resident dies with only limited assets, the estate may be eligible for a simplified court proceeding (“summary administration”) or even no administration. However, making use of the summary administration or no administration procedures usually requires the advice or assistance of a lawyer.
Only you can decide whether the cost and difficulty of distributing assets through intestate procedures is better than the cost of preparing a will. It is relatively inexpensive to prepare a simple will, and often advisable, even if you believe you “have nothing” or you put your assets in someone else’s name.