If my wife and I were estranged/separated when she died, who is responsible for her estate?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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If my wife and I were estranged/separated when she died, who is responsible for her estate?

My wife and I were separated/estranged when she passed. I took full custody of the children and allowed her mother to become the executor of the estate since there was no Will. There were 2 insurance policies – 1 to me and 1 to our oldest daughter. What finances my wife had I was unaware of but my mother-in-law’s lawyer is claiming because I received insurance money and have custody of the kids who are the heirs to the estate that I am financially responsible for all the legal fees. Is that correct and what am I responsible for?

Asked on August 27, 2016 under Estate Planning, South Carolina


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

He is wrong. The *estate* is responsible for the legal fees--being a beneficiary, or having custody of the beneficiaries (that is, your children), or receiving life insurance proceeds, does not make you responsible for the estate's fees and debts; rather the estate itself is liable for them. Of course, if your children are the only heirs, then anything spent by the estate will, unfortuantely, come out of the money they would otherwise inherit.

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