Florida law has many rules in place for managing probate and estate issues. Generally speaking, if the family members of someone who dies don't agree with the terms of the last will or estate plan, the family can challenge the plan in probate court. The courts will also handle arrangements for those who die without a valid last will or estate plan on record.
In some cases, the courts find themselves in the uncomfortable position of helping one individual whose rights wind up violated through the administration of an estate or the terms included in a last will. Many times, it is a spouse who has to worry about whether the terms of the last will violate their legal rights under Florida state law.
Some people intentionally create terms in their last will to penalize their spouse or cut them out of inheriting entirely. However, Florida state law does not allow for total disinheritance of a spouse.
The survivor has a right to the home even if it's only in one spouse's name
One of the most important rights for surviving spouses during estate proceedings is the protection of their right to the homestead where the couple lived. In some couples, only one spouse holds the title, but both people actually live on the property.
If there are no children, then the surviving spouse inherits the homestead property. If there are children who share parentage with both the surviving spouse and the deceased spouse, the surviving spouse inherits the property in that situation as well.
In the event that the surviving spouse is not biologically related to the surviving children of the deceased spouse, the surviving spouse receives a life estate, which effectively grants them the right to remain in the marital home until they die, at which point it passes to the children.
If your spouse leaves you nothing, you still have rights to some of the estate
Florida law has protections in place for spouses who find that their inheritance is very little or nothing at all according to the estate plan or will. In addition to protecting the marital home, Florida probate law also discusses the estate in general.
If your spouse did not leave you any assets or left you only with a very small pittance of an inheritance, you, as a surviving spouse, have a statutory right to 30% of the total value of the estate. You can choose between accepting the estate plan as written or asking for the state to intervene and allocate 30% of the estate's value to you.
If you aren't sure what the best approach is in your situation as a spouse who did not receive adequate inheritance rights, sitting down to speak with a Florida probate and estate planning attorney can help you make decisions that will protect your financial future.