Intestacy Laws and Surviving Spouses

Of course, there are also many laws that pertain to surviving spouses of decedents who die intestate. Like other aspects of intestacy, these laws vary considerably from state to state. While it seems safe to assume that the spouse will inherit the entire estate if the decedent dies without a will, this is not necessarily the case. It is true that spouses usually inherit the greatest portion of the decedent’s estate; however, intestacy laws almost always divide the estate between the decedent’s spouse, children, and sometimes even the decedent’s parents. If there are no spouse or children, and if the decedent’s parents are dead, then the estate usually is distributed among the decedent’s siblings or other relatives according to specific rules delineated in the statutes.

It is crucial to keep in mind that state intestacy laws can differ significantly from one state to the next. For example, most states set aside an allowance for a surviving spouse and/or children. This can be true whether or not there is a will. This amount is usually modest, but it is free from any other claims against the estate or debts of the decedent. In these cases, the spouse and/or children take a specific dollar amount of the estate. Their doing so occurs before the creditors, heirs, and other beneficiaries receive their shares of what remains. There are great differences in these allowances among the states. For example, this amount is set at $50,000 in California, but only $2,000 in Delaware. If there is no will, many states also give the surviving spouse a definite financial interest in any real estate owned by the decedent, such as “one-half,” or a “life estate.”


Inside Intestacy Laws and Surviving Spouses