While few people know the word escheatment, many Florida residents worry about losing property to the state after they die. You don’t have to have a high-value estate to lose property and assets to the Florida escheat process. Instead, what matters is whether you have a valid Will or have surviving family when you die.
Florida Escheatment Process
The Florida escheatment process allows the State to take possession of unclaimed property after a person dies. It is meant as a last resort, and only applies after both estate planning and intestate succession have failed. In Florida, escheatment can occur if a person dies without a valid Will or trust, and there are no living, identified, and found heirs to receive their assets under Florida intestate law.
The Florida Escheat statute says:
When a person dies leaving an estate without being survived by any person entitled to a part of it, that part shall escheat to the state.
Property that comes to the State through escheatment will be sold and the proceeds deposited into Florida’s State School Fund.
But that’s not the end of the story. At any point within 10 years of that deposit, a person can file a claim to the unclaimed property in the Florida Probate Court. This reopens the administration of the deceased’s estate and allows the person to establish the basis of their claim. You can also authorize a Florida probate attorney, certified public accountant, or private investigative agency to receive the proceeds on your behalf. This can avoid costly and time-consuming travel to Florida for claimants who live out-of-state.
Examples of How Escheatment Can Occur
Most probate cases don’t involve escheatment. Usually, a person will be survived by a spouse, children, or parents who will inherit their assets and property, even if they don’t have a Will. However, there are some circumstances that can create escheat issues:
- Financial accounts go undiscovered and unclaimed because they were created after the estate plan was written and the personal representative does not know they exist
- Unmarried and childless individuals pass away without an estate plan
- Assets are left to a person’s ex-spouse from estate plans written prior to divorce
- IRAs, life insurance policies, and investment accounts with outdated beneficiary designations
- An accident or natural disaster claims the lives of an entire family
- Estranged family members or Will beneficiaries can’t be located during the estate process (after proper notices are issued)
- Churches or charitable organizations named in a Will have closed between the time the estate plan is created and the person’s death
In these cases, some or all of the deceased person’s property can end up transferring to the State of Florida. The person’s natural heirs and Will beneficiaries don’t lose their rights, but they will have to go through extra steps to claim the proceeds back from the Florida Department of Financial Services.
Who Can Claim Florida Escheat Property?
If you think you may be entitled to unclaimed property from a deceased’s estate, you can check the Florida Unclaimed Property website. Once the property is identified, you can demonstrate your right to receive them and obtain a court order from the Florida probate court to collect your funds. If your loved one died without a will, claiming escheatment property generally involves establishing that you are a legal heir by demonstrating your genealogical connection with the deceased. If you were named as a beneficiary in the Will, you may have to demonstrate why you did not come forward during the ordinary notice period.
How to Prevent Escheatment in Your Estate Planning
No one wants to lose their property to the State after they die. Most Florida residents want to leave a legacy, either providing for their children and family, or by bequeathing their assets to people and causes they trust. However, without careful planning, you could leave gaps in your estate plan that will allow assets to fall to the State.
At Harrison Estate Law, we do our best to write our clients’ Wills and trusts in ways that protect our clients’ assets from the escheatment process. This includes:
- Identifying beneficiaries by class (“my children”) to avoid omitting pretermitted spouses or children.
- Naming alternative beneficiaries in the event an individual predeceases our client or organization folds prior to their death
- Including residuary clauses designed to sweep up any assets not specifically listed in the Will and award them to family members or other beneficiaries
- Ensuring assets are properly transferred into trusts to avoid escheatment of property intended to pass through a revocable living trust
- Providing estate plan review services to periodically update Wills and estate planning documents to include additional assets and contact information for beneficiaries
Get Help Reclaiming Your Family’s Unclaimed Property
We also assist would-be heirs and beneficiaries in reclaiming property that has escheated to the state. Our probate attorneys can help you identify unclaimed property and file the necessary paperwork in the Florida probate court to establish your claim, and recover the proceeds of your loved one’s property. We want to help you protect your family’s legacy. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville or are practicing social distancing, we are happy to set up a phone or Zoom call.