Changing your relationship status with an estranged spouse on social media to “It’s Complicated” may be an option for spouses who no longer consider themselves a couple: but failing to legally change your relationship status could have larger implications when a party to the marriage dies without a will.
Under Michigan law, when a married person dies without a will, the surviving spouse is entitled to inherit the estate. But what if the spouses haven’t spoken to each other in years? What if the spouses signed a separation decree?
In Michigan, these circumstances are not enough to disinherit a spouse. Under Michigan law (MCL 700.2801), a spouse that is separated, even under a separation decree, still has all of the inheritance rights of a spouse in a cohesive marriage.
Learning that a spouse who has not been in the picture for years may suddenly inherit the assets of a loved one often comes as an unwelcome surprise to family members of the deceased. Family members may challenge the estranged spouse’s right to inherit, but must prove one of the following:
- There is a valid judgment ending the marriage that is not recognized in Michigan, but recognized in the state where the judgment was issued.
- The estranged spouse participated in a marriage ceremony with a new person.
- A proceeding to end the marriage was in place when the deceased passed, but not yet finalized.
- The estranged spouse is living with a new person, and in a bigamous relationship with that new person.
- The estranged spouse was willfully absent from the deceased spouse, deserted the deceased spouse, or willfully neglected the deceased spouse.
An agreement between the spouses to break up is not enough to disinherit an estranged spouse. For a person to be willfully absent, he or she must have done something with the intent to bring about his or her absence from the deceased spouse.* In addition, any family member that challenges the right of the estranged spouse to inherit is also tasked with proving that the estranged spouse intended to be both physically and emotionally absent for the requisite period of at least one year.
If you do not wish to leave your estate to an estranged spouse, it is important that you discuss your options with an attorney.
Contact Resnick Law to obtain the assistance of an experienced estate planning law attorney who can help you with all of your estate planning needs.
Author: Amanda Rosenberg, Resnick Law P.C., 248-642-5400
*Lovett v Peterson (In re Estate of Peterson), 315 Mich App 423, 889 NW2d 753 (2016)