Just because you are married does not mean your spouse will inherit your entire estate. If a Last Will and Testament do not exist, it does not necessarily mean the surviving spouse will be awarded the estate. There are several factors that determine what happens to the estate.
1. How the property is titled.
Is your property only titled in your name or in joint names? If your spouse is named in the title as another owner or a beneficiary, he or she will inherit the property. Property that only includes the deceased name will be awarded according to state laws. It is important to know how all of your property is titled to ensure that you know who will inherit it. The laws that determine whom property is awarded when solely owned with no beneficiaries listed, are referred to in America as “intestacy laws.” They are discussed more in number three.
2. If a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement was signed.
Prenuptial, premarital or postnuptial agreements can waive the right your spouse has to inherit property. If an agreement was signed before (prenuptial or premarital agreement) or after (postnuptial agreement) your wedding, your spouse is to be treated as having predeceased you. An agreement between you and your spouse can be made to only waive certain inheritance rights.
3. The intestacy laws of your state.
Many U.S. state intestacy laws do not require the entire estate to be awarded to the surviving spouse. Some states require that it be divided between the spouse and the deceased spouses’ children, if there are no children then parents or siblings of the deceased. If real estate is involved, a family feud can begin if some beneficiaries want to sell the property and some want to keep it. Things can also be difficult if property is in a different state than the one in which the deceased resided. The laws in that other state could be different and result in different beneficiaries than the rest of the estate, leaving your family in a mess.
What Should You Do?
If you are married and you want all of your property to be awarded to your spouse, you need to speak with an attorney that knows the inheritance laws in your state. For property in a different state, you may need to speak to a different attorney that is familiar with that state’s laws. The attorney can help you review all the titles on your estate to determine your options for making your spouse the only beneficiary.