When someone dies in the state of Florida, his property is distributed in accordance with the state's probate laws. These laws set out the procedures through which estate assets are distributed, who distributes them and what processes must be followed. Generally, any estate in Florida must follow the state probate laws, no matter the estate's size.
When someone dies and leaves behind property, that property is typically referred to as the estate. In Florida, the estate can be distributed in one of two ways: in accordance with the terms of a will, or if no will is present, in accordance with the laws of intestate succession. People who make a will can decide for themselves how their property will be distributed after they die. The estates of those without a will are dealt with by the laws of intestate succession, a prearranged set of rules determining who receives property based on their relationship to the decedent.
When a person dies in Florida, her estate must be admitted to probate. The person holding the will turns it into the circuit court clerk in the county where the decedent lived, whereupon the court begins probate procedures. Generally, this involves the court accepting the will and naming an executor (also called a personal representative) to oversee how the estate is distributed. Once recognized by the court, the personal representative is granted "letters testimentary" or "letters of administration." These official documents allow the representative to take account of all estate assets, pay for any debts and distribute the property in accordance with the will. If the decedent left no will, the judge can appoint a personal representative or distribute the estate according to the laws of intestate succession.
Florida law generally protects the rights of heirs and spouses to receive assets out of probate even if a will says otherwise. Spouses, for example, are entitled to homestead rights in the marital home or other real property. Spouses may also choose to receive an elective share of the property, generally a 30 percent portion of the decedent's assets. During the probate process, spouses and children may be entitled to family allowances, essentially "probate alimony" that is paid from the estate while the probate process is being completed.