When Helen married Max three years ago, she assumed he would take care of her financially. He did, so long as he was alive. A few days after Max’s funeral last month, Helen learned that Max had left a $750,000 estate but almost all of it went to Max’s two children through joint bank accounts, joint property and a trust, and his former wife got the balance in Max’s last will (Max had not written a new will since his divorce). Helen got nothing.
Helen should see a lawyer soon. She is protected by several Utah laws, including these:
The “pretermitted spouse” rule: Utah law protects a spouse from being disinherited by a last will written before the marriage, and she is often entitled to a share even if the will says otherwise. The rule is complicated so Helen needs good counsel.
The 1/3 “spousal elective share:” Unless she has waived her rights in writing after a full disclosure of the husband’s financial affairs, a disinherited wife may claim up to one-third of the dead spouse’s estate. A $25,000 minimum is provided in small estates. (The same rules apply to disinherited husbands.) The law allows the survivor to reclaim a portion of the spouse’s joint accounts, trusts, and property even if her name was not on them, and even
to recover a share of gifts made by the spouse before his death. Again, the rule is complicated so Helen needs good advice.
The widow or widowers “homestead exemption:” A surviving spouse is entitled to a $15,000 homestead allowance if she (or he) has no equivalent inheritance.
The “exempt property allowance:” A wife (or husband) who is not provided for may claim up to $10,000 in household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects.
The “family allowance” for support: If not provided for by an inheritance, a survivor has a right to claim a reasonable support allowance for up to one year after the death of the former partner.
…But hurry. These rights vanish quickly – many are lost within nine months after the death of the stingy spouse.
Find a lawyer who will listen. These important rights are complicated, so get the truth from someone who knows the law and will listen carefully to your circumstances.
Find a lawyer you can afford. A spouse who was cut out of the estate may not be able to afford a lawyer. Some law firms (like ours) offer free consultations and advice to a disinherited widow or widower. A few law firms (like ours) will accept these cases on a contingent fee basis – the lawyer is paid only if you collect money from your claim.
by Jaxck Helgesen, Published Dec 1, 2009