Disinheriting a Spouse

Authored by , LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

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A surprising number of people try to disinherit their spouses in their wills.  Sometimes this is because the spouse is already well off, but sometimes it is simply the result of a bitter dispute.

Generally, though, it is not possible to completely disinherit your spouse.  Most states have what are known as “equitable distribution” laws.  These laws allow your spouse to choose between taking what is in your will versus taking a share of your estate.  This share is usually between one third and one half of your estate.

A handful of states, including California, follow community property laws.  This means that one half of what you have made or acquired during your marriage belongs to your spouse.  However, you can do whatever you wish with your half.

The only real way to successfully disinherit a spouse is for you and your spouse to agree to it ahead of time.  If your spouse does not have an issue with receiving less than the law allows, and therefore does not dispute your will, then there is no problem.  Also, a number of couples sign contracts, such as prenuptial agreements, in which each spouse waives his or her right to the other’s property.

If you have questions about wills, disinheritance, or prenuptial agreements, you should consult with a lawyer.  An experienced estate planning attorney can explain the relevant laws to you and let you know what your options are.

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Last Modified: 08-31-2011 03:10 PM PDT

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