Does My Spouse Inherit Everything When I Die?

By Anna Assad

Whether your spouse inherits your entire estate depends on your state's laws. If you die without a will, your estate is divided according to state intestacy laws. If you had a will, your spouse's share is partly dependent on what you left her and whether you have surviving children or parents. Any part of your estate not subject to your state's estate laws, such as your retirement account, automatically belongs to the person you put as beneficiary on the account paperwork. Property you owned jointly with your spouse, such as your home, usually belongs to her as soon as you die.

Whether your spouse inherits your entire estate depends on your state's laws. If you die without a will, your estate is divided according to state intestacy laws. If you had a will, your spouse's share is partly dependent on what you left her and whether you have surviving children or parents. Any part of your estate not subject to your state's estate laws, such as your retirement account, automatically belongs to the person you put as beneficiary on the account paperwork. Property you owned jointly with your spouse, such as your home, usually belongs to her as soon as you die.

Spouse in Will

If you left a will that named your spouse as the only beneficiary of your estate, she may inherit everything. Some states provide automatic shares of your estate for your children if you don't in your will or if the will was made before the children were born. For example, in Oregon, children born after a will's creation receive a share equal to what they would have received if there wasn't a will. If you specifically disinherited a child in your will, the child may contest the will after you die and receive a share if successful.

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Spouse Omitted or Disinherited

If you intentionally disinherit your spouse in your will, state laws may give her a share of your estate anyway. How much she receives depends on your state, but she usually isn't entitled to the entire estate. For example, a disinherited spouse in Colorado may get up to half her surviving spouse's estate, but a spouse in Delaware only receives one-third of the estate. Your spouse is considered an omitted spouse if the two of you married after you made your will and, therefore, your spouse is not mentioned in it. An omitted spouse may receive a share of your estate under your state's laws, but if you provided for her in another way, such as by creating a trust for her, she may not be entitled to any part of your estate. If your spouse has separate property worth more than she'd receive under state laws for an omitted spouse share, she may not receive any part of your estate. Separate property is property not subject to your state's marital property division laws, such as a home she inherited. Community property states, such as Arizona and California, don't give an omitted or disinherited spouse an automatic share because she's entitled to her half of the community property.

Intestacy Rules

Intestacy laws differ by state. Your spouse may get everything if you don't have children or living parents. If you have children or living parents, your spouse is usually entitled to a majority share, with the rest going to your children or parents. If your spouse's share is the same as or exceeds the value of your estate, she may receive the entire estate even if you had surviving children or parents.

Separation

State laws differ at what happens to your estate if you die while legally separated, but not divorced, from your spouse. Some states give your spouse the right to inherit as a surviving spouse under your will or through intestacy laws. Other states don't consider her your surviving spouse if there was a legal separation agreement in effect at the time of your death.

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Who Inherits if There's No Will in Connecticut?

References

Related articles

Intestacy Rules in Colorado

Colorado's intestacy rules are similar to the rules found in other states but don't provide for inheritances by remote relatives, such as distant cousins. Colorado's laws allow inheritances by a birth parent who adopted out the deceased person or any birth children the deceased person put up for adoption, but only to prevent the estate from going to Colorado because of a lack of heirs. State laws set the inheritance rules for the estate of a person who died intestate; however, these rules don't take the financial needs of his heirs into consideration.

Who Is Legally the Next of Kin?

Next of kin is a legal term that comes up when someone has died without a will. If an individual dies without leaving a valid will, her estate passes to the relatives described as next of kin in the state's intestacy laws. Most states consider the deceased's surviving spouse and children next of kin for inheritance purposes.

West Virginia State Laws on Spouse Inheritance

In West Virginia, your spouse can inherit from you under the terms of your will or by laws that govern inheritance. Although some of these provisions are automatic -- for example, you cannot disinherit your spouse -- crafting an estate plan can help ensure your assets are distributed as you wish, without any unintended consequences.

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