A will is an important document for many different reasons. Namely, it's a way in which a person can legally declare their intention for dividing assets after they die or name a legal guardian for their children. For large and small families, a last will and testament can provide assurance that your children or spouse can inherit what is yours without issue or hardship. The key here is that those are, indeed, your final wishes. Inheritance rights of a surviving spouse, however, can get a little more complex if such a will is not in place.
The last thing you may want to think about is what happens after you or someone you love dies. Yet it is an inevitability. In certain circumstances, a spouse is unofficially a beneficiary of assets and an estate. In this article, we will cover the laws and nuances of the inheritance rights of a surviving spouse.
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Assets That Don't Go Through Probate
The question of what a surviving spouse will inherit from a deceased spouse is not always straightforward. Even with a will in place, it's important to understand the probate process for your existing spouse.
First, not all your assets will always go through probate. If you have a bank account, vehicle, or property with your spouse as a joint account and one of you dies, then the surviving spouse becomes the sole owner of those assets. This includes other items such as:
Life insurance policies
In general, most married couples prefer to plan an estate together. While moving through this process, it's important to consider how your assets are currently owned whether jointly or individually.
It's critical that all beneficiaries named in a will are updated on the assets that have provisions for naming them, including investments and bank accounts with required transfer on death designations. A good rule of thumb is that the following holds true for the inheritance rights of a surviving spouse. First, these types of assets automatically transfer to a surviving spouse:
Community Property with Right of Survivorship
If you want to name someone else as your beneficiary other than your spouse, in some states that will require your spouse to sign off their beneficiary designation.
Assets That Go Through Probate
For any assets that must go through the probate process, then you should name your spouse as your beneficiary to inherit the assets once you have died.
However, if you die without a will, then the laws in your state determine how the assets are distributed. In some states, the surviving spouse will automatically inherit all the assets, regardless of whether there are surviving children. However, the amount that is given to the living spouse may differ if the deceased has descendants from another relationship.
In general, it stands that the spouse is to inherit first, followed by the decedent's children, their parents, their siblings, and so forth. Under certain circumstances, stepchildren may have priority to inherit over other heirs, as well.
For many reasons, it's best to have a Last Will and Testament in place, then you can make sure that people how you want to have your assets get them. Also, the probate process is very long and causes a lot of stress for your loved ones. Therefore, having a will can make the process much easier for everyone, including your living spouse.
The Uniform Probate Code
If you're asking about the inheritance rights of a surviving spouse, it's important to understand the Uniform Probate Code (the Code), which is a starting point that many states' laws use. Shares for surviving spouses under the Code can either entitle them to their entire estate (after expenses and taxes are paid), or a substantial part of it. Including:
A surviving spouse is entitled to the entire estate if the decedent is also survived by children who are all children of the decedent and the surviving spouse
Entire estate if the decedent does not have any children or surviving parents
If parents survive but no descendants, a surviving spouse takes the first $200,000 of the estate plus three-fourths of anything exceeding that amount
Find more on the Probate Code Act here.
Can Your Spouse Be Your Executor Of The Estate
You can designate someone as the executor of your estate. The executor is responsible for carrying out your last wishes regarding your property. They are often referred to as your personal representative. An executor does not need to be a lawyer.
If you do not have a will, then your executor will automatically become your beneficiary. This means that after your death, your executor will receive the inheritance that you were entitled to.
You can choose whomever you like to be your executor. However, it is important to note that you cannot change your executor unless you have a court order. As a result, your spouse can be your executor and in a lot of situations, it is very common to see the spouse as the executor.
Inheritance Rights Of Surviving Spouse: Creating Your Will
There are many ways to create a will. One way is to use an online tool. Another option is to hire a lawyer to draft a will for you, although it can be costly for both money and time.
Online Wills creator tools should allow you to add information such as beneficiaries, powers of attorney, and other documents. Wills.com can help you through the process from start to finish. Once you have created your will, you can change and alter it when you want for no extra fee.
Many married couples assume that without a will, a spouse will inherit everything. However, a will can help with probate matters that are more complex as outlined above. Inheritance without a will can leave a lot of things uncertain. A will is an essential document, that will make sure that your assets are distributed properly within your wishes.
Creating a will online is a simple and easy way to make sure that you and your spouse have all your affairs in place. Wills.com will help you create a will within 15 minutes, which will then give you peace of mind that when the worst happens, everything is in order. This takes the pressure off your living spouse and allows them to grieve for you properly, while they are reassured that everything else has already been handled beforehand.
Wills.com Online Will Creator
You think that a living spouse has automatic inheritance rights once their partner has died. However, it isn't always that simple. Even if you are married, you should have a will in place naming your partner as the main beneficiary.
In some situations, your surviving spouse will automatically inherit certain things, but they still need to be named as the beneficiary for the bank account. Or for certain shared assets, the spouse will become the sole owner of the asset anyway.
Surviving spouses do have certain rights if they aren't mentioned in the deceased's will, that they can use if they feel as if they need or want to. The rights living spouses have can differ from state to state, so this is something you should check before filing against their will. Overall, the surviving spouse will inherit most of the assets the deceased has left behind unless someone else, such as a child, has been named. Yet, it is always best to name your living spouse as the main beneficiary and executor of your will.