Are Second Cousins Legal Heirs of an Intestate Estate in Florida?
When there is no will for a probate estate in Florida, state law determines who will inherit the decedent’s (deceased person’s) property. In cases where the decedent was not married at the time of their death, Section 732.103 of the Florida Statutes specifies the following order of inheritance:
- the descendants of the decedent, i.e., their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, et al;
- if there are no descendants, then the estate goes to the decedent’s surviving parents; and
- If both of the decedent’s parents are also deceased, then the estate goes to the decedent’s brothers and sisters or their descendants (i.e., the decedent’s nieces and nephews).
If there are no heirs in any of the categories listed above, Section 732.103 states that the estate must be divided between the decedent’s paternal and maternal relatives as follows. Each share is then devised to the surviving grandparents, or if none of them survived, to the uncles and of the decedent and their descendants.
Florida Appeals Court: Common Great-Grandparents Too Distant a Relationship to Inherit
Florida’s intestate distribution law effectively draws the line at the descendants of the aunts and uncles of the decedent. If no surviving relative can be found at that point, the property of the intestate estate will be “escheated” or turned over to the State of Florida. Even if there might be some more distant relative who appears and insists they are the next of kin, if the degree of relation is too remote a Florida probate court will reject such a claim.
This issue recently came up in a case from the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal. In Florida Department of Legal Affairs v. Estate of Bruening, the state sought to escheat the estate of an unmarried man who left no descendants and no will. The decedent apparently left a “substantial estate” according to court records. Yet he never married and had no known descendants.
The probate court appointed curator of the probate estate. The curator looked for any heirs who qualified under Section 732.103 but came up empty. A woman then filed an affidavit with the probate court declaring she was the decedent’s second cousin. She sought to be named administrator of the estate as a potential beneficiary. She also identified two other “second cousins once removed” as potential heirs.
Basically, the three cousins and the decedent shared a set of great-grandparents. The probate court determined this was a sufficient degree of kinship to justify granting the second cousin’s petition. The Fourth District disagreed. The appellate court said Section 732.103 clearly draws the line at the descendants of grandparents–not great-grandparents–for purposes of intestate succession. So the decedent’s estate would therefore escheat to the State of Florida.
Contact Florida No Will Attorney Mark R. Manceri Today
It is unfortunately common to see significant Florida probate estates tied up in legal proceedings because the decedent left no will. If you are a party to such a dispute, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced Pompano Beach estate litigation attorney. Contact Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.