The Property Rights of a Wife After a Husband's Death

By Maggie Lourdes
A wife has certain inheritance rights to a decedent husband's estate.

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A wife may inherit her deceased husband's assets through careful estate planning or by operation of law. Some circumstances require that a wife open a probate court case to obtain ownership of a decedent husband's assets. Each state has an individual set of laws governing a wife's rights to inheritance. However, some general principles for spousal inheritance rights are common to all jurisdictions.

Spousal Testate Inheritance

It is common for a wife to inherit through her husband's will.

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Wives commonly inherit under the provisions of their husbands' will. This is called testate inheritance. A wife must present her husband's will to the probate court located in his county of residence. The probate court issues orders of authority to the personal representative appointed in the will. The personal representative may then transfer ownership of the assets devised to the wife.

Spousal Intestate Succession

A wife takes all or part of a husband's intestate estate.

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Intestate succession refers to an estate where no will exists. A wife takes all of her husband's intestate estate, if he does not have children with another woman. If a husband shares children with a woman other than his surviving spouse, the children will receive part of the intestate estate. A probate court case must be opened in order for a wife to obtain assets from her decedent husband's intestate estate.

Joint Spousal Property

Joint property automatically passes to a wife when a husband dies.

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Husbands and wives commonly own property as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTROS). A wife automatically owns JTROS property upon the death of her husband. An official death certificate must be presented to all financial institutions where JTROS assets are held. A death certificate also must be filed in the county register of deeds where joint real estate is located.

Elective Shares

Specific questions about a wife's inheritance rights should be directed to an attorney.

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The law of elective shares bars a husband from intentionally disinheriting his wife. Elective shares grant a wife rights in her husband's estate even if she is unnamed in his will. Each state has different rules and deadlines for claiming an elective share. A person should contact an attorney with specific questions about elective shares or general inheritance rights of wives.

About the Author

Maggie Lourdes is a full-time attorney in southeast Michigan. She teaches law at Cleary University in Ann Arbor and online for National University in San Diego. Her writing has been featured in "Realtor Magazine," the N.Y. State Bar's "Health Law Journal," "Oakland County Legal News," "Michigan Probate & Estate Planning Journal," "Eye Spy Magazine" and "Surplus Today" magazine.

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