What Happens to Your House If You Die Without a Will in Florida?

What Happens to Your House If You Die Without a Will in Florida

When a Florida resident passes away without a last will, things can get complicated very quickly. With clear guidance on what should happen to assets like the family home, disputes between potential heirs are common.

Florida’s intestacy laws will dictate how the estate—including the house—gets divided. However, the outcomes under state rules don’t always match what the deceased would have wanted to happen. Costly legal battles can erupt between surviving relatives staking claims.

Let’s discuss how Florida handles estates for those who die without wills. We’ll explore the default processes, different family members’ rights, inheritance disputes that can emerge, and why updating your estate plan is so important.

When Florida Intestate Succession Rules Apply

If someone passes away in Florida without a properly executed will, state intestate succession rules determine how actual property transfers. Rather than honoring the deceased’s specific intentions, the courts will divide assets based on formulas dictated under Florida Statute 732.

The legislature designed these intestacy rules to match what an “average” person would have probably desired before passing away. However, for most families, default rules rarely align perfectly with what the deceased would have wanted.

Without a will dictating otherwise, the family home goes to heirs in the order determined by Florida’s intestacy laws. Who takes what depends mainly on which close relatives the deceased leaves behind.

Surviving Spouse’s Claim

Under intestate succession in Florida, the rights of a surviving spouse come first. The surviving husband or wife inherits the entire estate if the deceased was married but held no descendants (children or grandchildren). This taking includes receiving full ownership rights over the family home.

However, the outcome changes when the couple has descendants, whether minors or adult children. In this case, the surviving spouse retains half ownership of the house. They split the other 50% of the interest with any shared children. 

For example:

  • Jim dies without a will, survived by wife Mary and their adult son Dan.
  • Mary inherits 50% of the family house, while Dan receives the remaining 50% under intestate rules.

The now co-owned property can cause conflicts, especially if the heirs don’t get along. Mary may want to keep living in the home. However, Dan could legally force its sale so he could access his inheritance value.

Mary does have some options to gain sole control, though. She can use personal funds to buy out Dan’s direct 50% interest in the property. Depending on the home’s market value, Mary’s financial means, and Dan’s willingness to sell, this act may prove problematic.

Options for the Heirs of the Descendent

In Florida, an unmarried descendant’s relatives inherit equally as co-owners. Whether minors or adults, all children from that person receive equal shares from an intestate estate

Unfortunately, these laws make keeping a house within the family problematic. 

A typical scenario sees siblings as new co-owners, like in this example:

  • Pat dies with no will, survived by her home and three adult children: Amy, Beth, and Carl.
  • Under intestate succession rules, ownership transfers equally among the siblings (33% each).

Now, as joint owners with potential disputes on the horizon, a few options exist.

Equal Co-Ownership

The three heirs could attempt to co-own and co-manage the property cooperatively. However, disagreements often brew over occupancy rights, expenses, repairs, and overall intentions each person has.

One Buys Out Other Shares

Alternatively, one heir could purchase a 50% interest from the others. For example, Amy decides keeping the childhood house is most important to her.

Again, significant complications arise here. What if Beth and Carl don’t want to sell their shares? What if Amy lacks enough funds to buy them out? The potential disputes go on and on.

Forced Sale

Without consensus, Beth and Carl could also legally compel the sale to a third party. They can demand the property hits the market so all heirs ultimately take equal proceeds. While financially practical for them, this may prove emotionally devastating to Amy.

As we’ll explore next, these scenarios often play out when testamentary documents need to guide the family home’s ownership interests.

Impacts When Descendants Dispute Rights Leading to Estate Sales

Sadly, bickering between heirs leads many Florida estates into legal disputes when no will exists. The deceased’s children might fiercely argue over keeping or selling the house. Intense lawsuits can also erupt over personal property found inside.

The state’s default intestacy rules try to appease everyone. But forced sales often happen to split net values deeply when the parties can’t resolve matters on their own

Legal Costs

The entire estate bears legal expenses when conflicts emerge under intestacy. Attorney fees, appraisal costs, taxes, and other bills for administering property all add up. These expenses also reduce inheritance values for the heirs.


Meanwhile, inheritance distribution stalls entirely until the courts resolve all estate disputes and probate matters. The legal snarls introduce long delays before heirs receive their rightful share. Months can pass for even simple arguments over personal items in the home.

Estate Sales Prevent Inheriting Property

One fact often surprises families dealing with intestacy. When disagreements force property sales, heirs don’t receive the home. Arguments by warring descendants ultimately prevent inheriting the real estate asset altogether.

Only Receive Net Sale Proceeds

Under intestacy disputes, heirs lose the ability to gain actual title. After selling the home and paying expenses, they only collect their portion of the remaining sale cash.

Emotional Loss

Estate sales strip away financial value and extreme emotional connections to property. Lifelong memories get reduced to dollars. Many grieving children regard losing childhood homes as a further personal loss.

Updating Estate Plans For Transferring Real Property

As we’ve explored, Florida’s intestacy laws attempt to fill gaps left by no estate plan. But conflicts easily ignite between heirs expecting different outcomes than state intestate formulas produce. Even general assumptions that children will cooperatively “work things out” tragically fall apart.

Having an executed will and supporting documents helps guarantee your true wishes happen. The best way to avoid succession disputes is to name an intended heir to receive the family residence.

Override State Order

A customized estate plan allows you to prioritize one person or child to inherit the home above others. Your will can override Florida’s rigid succession laws when explicitly detailing how you want property divided.

Enforce Your Real Wishes

Tragically, many Floridians need to realize that the courts regularly dismiss poorly written wills, especially when the document’s vague terms fail to express the testator’s intent clearly.

Interested parties regularly contest unclear testamentary documents presented in probate. 

Stivers Law helps families properly align and coordinate their real estate assets into well-executed estate plans. This diligence ensures the family home stays with the family after your passing.

Get Help Planning Your Florida Estate

Losing a loved one is painful enough without having to argue over disagreements stemming from intestacy. Don’t risk stripping emotional and financial value from your heirs’ family home. 

Protecting your real estate assets requires proactive planning tailored to Florida’s complex probate rules. An estate planning attorney guides clients like you in correctly getting wills, trusts, and beneficiary forms in order. 

At Stivers Law in Coral Gables, FL, their team can help you transfer your family residence seamlessly into the right hands. Contact Stivers Law today to explore your options and get help safeguarding your property and preventing disputes.


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