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A will is a legally enforceable statement of how an individual would like his (or her) estate to be distributed once he passes away. It can include specific gifts or bequests to individuals such as relatives and close friends. With a will you can also state who you would like to be charge of managing your estate when you pass away. This person is known as your personal representative. When you pass away, before your property can be distributed to your beneficiaries, it must go through a process called probate. In Florida the circuit court has jurisdiction over probate matters. The administration process generally takes up to 12 months. At the end of the process your beneficiaries will receive your property. While there are other important estate documents, a will is one that every person should have. To learn more about the importance of a will and the consequences of not having one, contact an experienced Fort Lauderdale wills lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates.

Importance of a Will

A will is the only way to ensure that none of your property is subject to intestate succession. Florida intestate succession rules defines who would be entitled to receive your probate property in the absence of a valid will. In other words, if you do not write a will, Florida will write one for you. Under intestate succession your estate will be distributed as follows:

  • Surviving spouse and children: Surviving spouse will get 50% and your children will share in 50%
  • Surviving spouse and on children: Surviving spouse will get 100%
  • Children and no surviving spouse: Children will share in 100%

As a Fort Lauderdale wills lawyer will explain, in the absence of a surviving spouse and children or descendants, then your estate will go to other relatives such as your parents, siblings, or grandparents. If you have not surviving blood relatives, your property will escheat to the state of Florida.

Probate Property

Through your will Florida law allows you to leave only property that is subject to probate. Non-probate property will be distributed outside of the probate process. Probate property includes personal property such as jewelry, clothing, furniture, pets, appliances, and automobiles. Probate property also includes bank accounts and real estate.

Property that is not probate property is property that has a designated beneficiary such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, profit sharing plans, insurance policies, and bank accounts with a payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designation. Non-probate property also includes property transferred into a trust as well as real property owned in joint tenancy.

If you would like to learn more information about which property in your estate is subject to probate and which is not, contact a wills attorney in Fort Lauderdale.

Problems During Probate

During probate, if an interested party such as a beneficiary or heir feels that a will is invalid, he (or she) has the legal right to petition the circuit court to object to the will being admitted to probate. This is called a will contest. While anyone can be upset about the terms of a will, only beneficiaries and heirs have legal standing to contest a will. In addition, a petitioner must have legal grounds to contest a will. Legal grounds are limited to improper execution, fraud, duress, undue influence, and lack of testamentary capacity.

If the circuit court judge determines that the will is invalid then the will may be thrown out. As a result, the estate will have to be administered and distributed based on the rules of intestate succession.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

A will is a critical part of a comprehensive estate plan. Even if you have a trust, a will is necessary to ensure that any property that is left in your probate estate will go to people of your choosing and will not be subject to the rules of intestate succession. For help in creating a will that meets your goals for how you would like your estate distributed and that is executed according to the requirements of Florida law, contact the experienced wills attorneys serving Fort Lauderdale at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. We are here to help. Contact us attorneys at 561-710-4000 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.

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