What are an estranged wife’s rights to their deceased husband’s estate?

My father died leaving no Will that we know of. His wife, and the child that he had with her during their marriage, has taken over everything after being estranged for 30 years. She feels that since they were married and never divorced (according to her but I am searching for documentation) that they are entitled to everything, and that my other sister and I are entitled to nothing. Do I have any rights as his oldest child and my sister since were the only ones that were active in his life in all the years prior to his death to his death? They are hiding information from us

Asked on July 14, 2014 under Estate Planning, North Carolina


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

I am so sorry for your loss. If your Father died with out a Will then he died "intestate" and the intestacy laws in the state of New York will apply.  If he was legally married at the time of their death then yes, she will inherit under the statute. But so would you and your sister.  You have a lot of rights here and I would STRONGLY suggest that you two hire an attorney to protect yourselves.  You can view the probate file and ask for an accounting and a ton of other things to find out what is going on. Get help.  Good luck.

Here is what would apply:

  • spouse and two or more children, or descendants of those children
  • spouse inherits 1/3 of your intestate real estate and a portion of your intestate personal property (if you die with personal property worth $60,000 or less, your spouse inherits all of it; if you have more than $60,000 worth of personal property, your spouse inherits $60,000 plus 1/3 of the balance)
  • children or descendants inherit 1/3 of your intestate real estate and any intestate personal property remaining after the spouse’s share

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