Pennyborn's free estate planning guide for couples provides information for spouses, domestic partners, and unmarried couples. Our estate planning guide for couples also provides information for surviving spouses and partners. To browse the free guide, refer to the index below.
If your spouse has incurred a lot of debt or is facing huge medical bills, you may be worried about whether you will be liable for debts owed by your spouse’s estate. It is important for surviving spouses to understand that even in circumstances where you are not legally liable, creditors will probably attempt to collect your deceased spouse’s debts from you anyway. The best way to protect yourself financially is to be informed about how debts are to be paid during probate or administration of an estate.
For more on this topic, including tips on how to respond to creditors of a deceased spouse, see
deceased spouse’s debts.
Estate Planning for Spouses
Can You Disinherit Your Spouse?
Many married people are actually quite interested in finding out whether they can disinherit their spouse. The law provides certain inheritance rights to spouses that cannot be changed by attempting to disinherit your spouse in your will. Other factors also play a role in determining the rights your spouse has to inherit from your estate, including whether he or she signed a pre-nuptial agreement, whether you live in a community property state, how title to property is held, etc. If you want to ensure your spouse does not inherit anything more than the minimum he or she is entitled to under the law, an estate planning lawyer can explain your options.
Before consulting a lawyer about what your spouse has a right to inherit, make an itemized list of the following types of property in your estate: a. property you owned before you were married; b. property you received as an inheritance or as a gift; c. property acquired while living in a non-community property state versus property acquired while living in a community property state; and d. property acquired while you were legally separated or after the date of your divorce. To learn more about what your spouse has the right to inherit, see
disinherit a spouse.
What Spouse Inherits If You Die Without a Will
If you are contemplating whether to make a will, you may want to know what your surviving spouse will inherit if you die without a will, called dying intestate. When one spouse dies without a will or other estate planning documents such as a living trust, the share the surviving spouse inherits is determined according to state intestate succession laws. Whether the deceased spouse is survived by other heirs, such as children, siblings, and parents, can also affect the amount the surviving spouse will inherit.For a detailed overview of the inheritance rights of the surviving spouse if there is no will, see
Ways to Hold Title With Your Spouse
If you are concerned about what your spouse or partner will inherit from your estate, give careful consideration to how you hold title to property. Forms of title, such as community property with right of survivorship, joint tenants, tenants in common, and tenants by the entirety, have different ramifications for your estate plan. In addition to property deeds, you should examine account registrations on bank and brokerage accounts, as well as other assets, to see whether any title changes should be made to achieve your estate planning goals.
To find out how different forms of title may affect the inheritance rights of your spouse or partner, see
title to property.
The Marital Deduction & Your Estate Plan
If one of your estate planning goals is to minimize estate taxes, you may want information on the marital deduction. If you want to ensure your estate passes to your children and other heirs instead of having a large portion of your assets being used to pay estate taxes to the government, consult an attorney about estate planning strategies that will help you minimize taxes on your estate. How you and your spouse hold title to property is an important consideration in eligibility for the marital deduction.
For more on the marital deduction, estate taxes, and how you and your spouse hold title to property, see the