Anyone who is in the process of doing any estate planning or drafting a will in Florida should know that the state has a number of requirements for these documents to be recognized by probate courts. If a will or other document was not executed properly, the person will be treated as if they died intestate, which means a default set of rules set by statute govern how their property will be distributed. To avoid complications in the probate courts, it is best to have your estate reviewed by a Destin probate litigation lawyer. 

The Florida Bar has issued some basic advice to consumers regarding how to know if they have a valid will and how to complete one. 

What are the requirements to make a will? 

A formal will requires that two disinterested witnesses be present while the document is signed and completed. This was done historically to prevent fraud or duress, and it still serves a similar purpose. Many other states will recognize handwritten wills or less formal documents, but Florida is not one of them. An amendment to a will is called a codicil. These changes also must be done in a certain way, otherwise they will not be recognized in court. 

Once a valid will is completed it is good until the testator dies. A will should only be changed or revoked by additional formal legal documentation to avoid confusion or “will contests” that attempt to determine which document is the one that should actually dictate a person’s property disposition. When questions linger, family members can get involved in disputes over inheritance. 

What happens when a person does not have a will or the will is not recognized by the courts?

The person’s property will be subject to distribution under Florida’s intestacy statute. This means certain close heirs like a spouse or children would be the first to receive all of the property. If they are not available, the state will move on to a different set of heirs that is described in the statute. Dying intestate is very undesirable for people without close relatives, as it can be difficult to determine exactly where the property will go. This is one of the ways that distant relatives can suddenly collect an inheritance. 

Some companies may claim that life insurance and other products are a substitute for a will, but this is not totally true. It is still best to get legal advice. 

The function of probate courts

A probate court handles cases where someone’s property will be distributed. In many situations, this happens by simply following the instructions in a will that was drafted at some point before a person’s death. However, the court may have to examine multiple wills, trusts, or other documents to determine exactly what the person owned, and how their estate will be distributed. Having an attorney review all of this beforehand will avoid confusion and surprises after the testator dies. 

Get help from a local probate lawyer

There are attorneys in Destin who focus on probate and estate litigation. The lawyers at ASG Legal can assist with preparing documents to make sure property is distributed appropriately.