What Happens to a House When the Owner Dies Without a Will?


Dying without a valid will in place can create major complications for your loved ones in Florida. Without clear instructions on how you want your assets distributed, the state intestacy laws will determine who inherits your property. This can lead to outcomes that go against your wishes. To ensure your estate is handled as you intend, it’s vital to understand what happens when you die in Florida without a will.

How Does Probate Work in Florida When Someone Dies Without a Will?

When a Florida resident passes away without a will, their estate has to go through probate court to be distributed to heirs. This court-supervised process involves proving the validity of the deceased’s assets, paying any outstanding debts, and eventually transferring assets to beneficiaries.

Without a will, probate can be especially lengthy and expensive in Florida. The probate court has to identify all legal heirs based on state intestacy statutes. Disputes may arise if heirs disagree with the distribution. Completing probate without a will could take over a year in Florida and cost up to 10% of the estate’s value.

Who Can Inherit Your Property in Florida If You Die Without a Will?

If you pass away without a properly executed will, your assets are determined by Florida’s intestacy law. The exact distribution depends on your family situation when you pass away.

Here are some of the most common scenarios:

  • If married with no children – Your surviving spouse inherits your entire estate.
  • If married with children – Your spouse inherits your estate but has to split it equally with your children if any kids are not shared.
  • If single with children – Your assets are divided equally among your children.
  • If you are single with no children – Your parents inherit your estate. If your parents are deceased, then your assets go to your siblings.
  • If single with no close family – Your property goes to more distant relatives like aunts, uncles, or cousins.

Without a will, you lose the ability to choose who inherits your assets. Your estate may be divided in ways you never intended.

What Happens to Specific Assets Like Your House?

Certain property types have rules for transfer after death, regardless of whether you have a will. Joint bank accounts, for example, will pass directly to the surviving co-owner automatically upon death. Life insurance proceeds will go straight to the individual named as the policy’s designated beneficiary.

Retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs will transfer directly to the primary or contingent beneficiary named on the account. While these types of non-probate property do not get distributed through the terms of a will, it is still crucial to carefully designate beneficiaries to ensure your assets are inherited as intended.

For other major assets like your home, cars, or investments, Florida’s intestacy law will dictate who inherits the property if you have no will.

Your Home

If you solely owned your home, it would pass according to intestacy rules. Without a will, your home would likely have to go through probate for your heirs to gain ownership.

The probate process can be lengthy, so your home may sit vacant for an extended period. Your beneficiaries may need to sell your home to access their inheritance, even if you want the home kept in the family.

Jointly owned family homes with rights of survivorship are automatically transferred to the surviving owner at death outside of probate. But those survivors may not be who you would have chosen to inherit your share.


Like real estate, solely owned vehicles are subject to Florida’s intestacy laws. Surviving heirs may need to go through probate court to transfer or sell vehicles. For jointly owned vehicles, ownership passes to the survivor outside of probate. Ensure any co-owners align with your inheritance wishes.

Bank Accounts

Accounts without a payable-on-death or transfer-on-death beneficiary will be distributed through intestacy rules. Joint bank accounts pass to the living co-owner. Ensure joint account holders and POD/TOD beneficiaries match your preferences.


Non-retirement investment accounts without a transfer-on-death beneficiary will follow Florida’s intestacy statutes. Assets may need to go through probate before heirs can access investments. Review all your investment accounts to confirm beneficiary designations reflect your wishes.

How to Avoid Dying Intestate in Florida

To avoid Florida’s rigid intestate succession and ensure your property goes to chosen heirs, take these steps:

  • Make a will – Creating a legally valid will allows you to name beneficiaries for your entire estate. Adapt your will as life circumstances change.
  • Set up a living trust – Transferring assets into a revocable living trust avoids probate. Designate trust beneficiaries and successor trustees.
  • Name beneficiaries – Add transfer-on-death designations to investment accounts and payable-on-death to bank accounts.
  • Create joint accounts – Joint bank and investment accounts with rights of survivorship pass automatically.
  • Review property titling – Make sure real estate and vehicle titles reflect ownership and transfer wishes.
  • Update estate plan regularly – Review your will, trusts, and beneficiaries every few years and after major life events.

Without these estate planning steps, Florida intestacy law will determine who receives your assets at death. Don’t leave this decision in the state’s hands. Collaborate with a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer to draft a thorough plan protecting your legacy.

Don’t leave your legacy to chance. Work with the knowledgeable estate planning attorneys at Stivers Law today to put a comprehensive estate plan in place. Their team can help you avoid intestacy and ensure your assets go to your loved ones.