What are an estranged husband’s rights to his late wife’s assets?

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What are an estranged husband’s rights to his late wife’s assets?

My mother recently passed away. Her and my father were still legally married but he left her 20 years ago and has been living with his girlfriend. They had a house which was still in both their names, that she lived in and payed for everything, bills, upkeep, etc. They also had rental property together. My mother had a living Will but not a Will that stated her wishes after her death. My mother had a checking account only in her name and she added me to the account when she became ill. My father’s name was never on the account. When she passed away I closed the account and put it into a different account so he couldn’t get to the money. Does he have any legal right to that money since his name was not on the account?

Asked on May 12, 2014 under Estate Planning, Missouri

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

When there is no will, a spouse--including an estranged, but still-legally married spouse--will inherit the first $20,000 of value of the estate plus 1/2 the rest; the child(ren) get the other 1/2 of everything over $20,000. However, certain joint property, like a house in titled in both spouses' names, will go directly to the surviving spouse without even being probated. From what you write, it is likely your father inherited the house; possibly the rental property, too; and all or some of the money in the checking account (since if it was in her name only, it was her asset; and he gets, as stated, the first $20,000 of her assets and 1/2  the rest). If he seeks the money, there is a good chance you'll have to give it to him.


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