Does a Wife Inherit the Land of a Deceased Husband?

By Marie Murdock

In a marriage, assets of a husband and wife may be jointly owned such that each considers the marital possessions his or her own. Alternatively, the husband may have chosen to maintain separate property, owning land or other assets in only his name. Estate planning, lack of estate planning or even state law may determine the disposition of a husband’s ownership interest and the interest a wife will acquire after his death.

Survivorship Provisions

When a husband and wife acquire title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, as established by their deed, then upon the death of the husband, the property automatically transfers to the wife as survivor, without the necessity of probating a will or administering an estate. Joint ownership with survivorship provisions may be referred to in some states as "tenancy by the entirety" and in those states, it is restricted to married couples only.

Last Will and Testament

State laws do not allow a husband to disinherit a wife in his will absent a premarital agreement to the contrary. If the wife is not mentioned in the will, she may contest the will and should, in all likelihood, be awarded a portion of the estate of her husband. Whether that portion includes land or other assets would be decided by the court hearing the case. On the other hand, a husband may choose to leave all his land, as well as other assets, to his wife to the exclusion of his children. As long as the court does not allow the will to be invalidated by the children in a will contest, the wife will acquire all assets awarded her under this will. State laws are subject to change, and the wife should consider obtaining legal assistance in these situations.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan

Intestate Succession

If a husband owns land, or an interest in land, that is not subject to survivorship rights, and dies without a will, state laws of intestate succession govern the disposition of his property. Laws may vary from state to state as to the method of inheritance, but, generally, the wife is recognized as the primary heir or beneficiary to the estate, children being next in line to be followed by parents and then siblings. State laws may also vary depending on family structure. In some states, the wife will inherit all of the estate if she has been the only wife of the deceased, and the couple had children only with each other. If the husband had children by a former wife, the surviving spouse’s share may be limited, increasing the amount to be distributed to the children. The value of a parcel of land as well as state intestacy laws may determine whether land of a deceased husband becomes the sole property of the wife or jointly owned with other heirs.


A husband may have chosen to place the land in a trust for the benefit of his wife upon his death. A trustee will have been appointed to manage the trust and will generally be in charge of incremental distributions from the trust to the wife. The terms of the written trust agreement, as well as the authority given the trustee under the trust, may determine whether or not a parcel of land is distributed from the trust directly to the wife. Other beneficiaries may also have been named who will benefit from the trust and if the trust agreement so provides, the land may be sold to fund the trust for monetary distribution to the beneficiaries.

Protect your loved ones. Start My Estate Plan
The Transfer of Property Deed Upon a Spouse's Death



Related articles

The Hierarchy of Heirs

The hierarchy of heirs is determined by laws that govern inheritance in each state. Some states have adopted the Uniform Probate Code and have based their inheritance laws on its recommendations. The Uniform Probate Code provides rules concerning who is entitled to inherit a deceased relative's property/estate if no last will and testament was executed. Although laws may vary somewhat by state, typically the hierarchy of heirs is intended to divide the estate fairly among surviving family members.

In Last Wills, Trusts & Estates, Can an Executor Also Be a Beneficiary?

A person may name his adult child or other trusted relative or friend as executor in his will. He may also name devisees, or individuals who will inherit his property at death, and beneficiaries, or those who will benefit from any testamentary trust established by his will. An executor may also be a devisee or beneficiary.

Maryland's Inheritance Law

When a person dies, his estate, comprised of all property acquired during his lifetime, will be distributed to his heirs and beneficiaries. In Maryland, property passes in accordance with the state's inheritance laws. These laws provide guidance for estates passing by will or through intestate succession, as well as nonprobate assets. Beneficiaries are determined by how the deceased's estate is set up.

LegalZoom. Legal help is here. Start Here. Wills. Trusts. Attorney help. Wills & Trusts

Related articles

Changing a Family Trust Deed

A family member may have placed his property into a family trust as part of his estate planning process. Under the ...

Can I Keep My Assets Separate From My Wife in a Will?

When you undertake estate planning, you may not want to transfer assets to your wife. The degree to which you may want ...

How to Transfer a Deed to a House if the Owner Dies Without a Will

When someone who owns the entire interest in a parcel of land or real property dies without a will, the state’s laws of ...

How Much of a Husband's Estate Is a Widow in Florida Entitled To?

In Florida, a husband is free to leave everything to his wife in his will, if he has a will. However, if he doesn’t ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED