Wills & Estates in Florida

By Beverly Bird

Leaving a will ensures that your estate -- the assets you have accumulated during your lifetime -- will pass to the people you choose after your death. Each state has its own laws as to how this process -- called probate -- is done. In Florida, the circuit court oversees probate. Florida exempts some assets from the probate process and protects the rights of some next-of-kin against claims by the deceased’s creditors.

Making a Will

Florida requires two witnesses to a will, and they must sign it in the presence of the testator, or the person who is leaving the will. The witnesses may also be beneficiaries. You can make a will if you are of sound mind and older than 18. You can also leave a will if you are younger than 18 but emancipated, such as if you are married or have enlisted in the military. If your will is also notarized, it is "self-proving," which means that your witnesses do not have to appear in court after your death to testify to its validity.


In Florida, the person you choose to oversee the process of distributing your assets to your beneficiaries and making sure all your debts are paid is your “personal administrator.” If your personal administrator is unrelated to you, she must be a Florida resident. Unlike some states, Florida does not make any documents containing the financial information of your estate available for public inspection.

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Rights of Creditors

Your personal representative must pay those you owed money to from your estate before your assets are distributed to your beneficiaries, but Florida exempts some of your assets for the benefit of your immediate family before paying creditors’ claims. These include household furnishings up to a total value of $20,000 and two motor vehicles, assuming there are no liens against them. Your personal representative must give your creditors notice that your will is being probated, and they have three months to file a claim for what you owe them. If your personal representative or any of your beneficiaries object to the claim, the creditor must file a lawsuit to get it approved.

Dying Without a Will

If you don’t leave a will, you die "intestate" and Florida law decides who gets your property after your creditors, taxes and expenses -- such as probate fees and funeral costs -- are deducted from your estate. If you are married but have no children, your spouse gets everything that's left over. If you are married and do have children, your spouse and children share your assets, and the circuit court appoints a guardian for your children to oversee their portion if they are minors. If you have no spouse, everything goes to your children, and if you have no spouse or children, your estate passes to more distant relatives. The state inherits your assets if you have no known living relatives at all.

Provisions for Disinheritance

Florida allows you to disinherit anyone except your spouse. If you try to leave your spouse nothing or marry and forget to add him to your will, he still has a right to approximately 30 percent of your assets. You also cannot leave your home to anyone other than your spouse or children if any of them are still living.

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Florida Laws Regarding Wills of Married Couples

Probate is a period of time during which your affairs are sorted after your death to make sure that your assets are transferred to their proper beneficiaries and that your debts are paid. In Florida, your estate goes through this process whether or not you leave a will, according to the Florida Bar. The difference is that if you draw up a will, you can name your beneficiaries and your personal representative, the person you want to oversee the details of probate.

Wills & Estates in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania courts are less involved with the probate process of a deceased’s will than some other states, but there are still procedures and laws to follow. While it is always possible to write a will or guide an estate through the probate process without an attorney, it can be helpful to at least consult with a lawyer to make sure your understanding of the law is correct.

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