What rights does an estranged wife have when her husband dies?

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What rights does an estranged wife have when her husband dies?

My grandmom passed away 5 months ago. She had a will from the early 80’s leaving my father her home, which was paid off. My father passed away 2 months go. He did not probate the Will or do anything to get the house in his name. My father was married to a women for 35 years they lived together as husband and wife for only 2 years. One in the late 70’s for a year or so and once 15 years ago for a year. The rest of the time they were separated and my father lived with my grandmother. I am the only living relative of my father and grandmother other than his estranged wife. Is she entitled to my grandmother’s home?

Asked on June 7, 2015 under Estate Planning, Pennsylvania

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Sorry to hear about your grandmother and your father.

Your father inherited your grandmother's house.  If your father left a Will, the provisions of the Will are controlling for determining inheritance.  If your father died intestate (without a Will), the rules of intestate succession determine inheritance.

Under intestate succession, the surviving spouse inherits your father's estate; however, there isn't any surviving spouse because your father and his wife were separated and due to the length of separation it could be argued they had no intent to reunite.

Therefore, since your father has no surviving spouse, you would inherit his entire estate (including the home).  The estranged wife has no claim.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

While it is worth consulting in detail with a probate attorney about the situation, based on what you right, most likely, the estranged wife is entitled to half your father's estate, which based on the timing, would include a half interest in your grandmother's home. The law does not judge the quality of a relationship or marriage--it only looks to the existence, or not, of a valid marriage. So the fact that your father and this woman did not live as husband and wife is irrelevant: if he never divorced her, she was legally his wife as much as if they lived together every day. And if he did not have a will, his estate (everything he owned) will pass by the rules of intestate succession which in your state, if she was not your mother (as your question imples), means she gets 1/2 and his children by another woman (or women) share the other 1/2 of his estate.


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