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What do surviving spouses receive when no will is on file?

When a loved one dies without a will, the decisions pertaining to estate distribution will be left up to state intestacy laws to determine. Since most state's intestacy laws track the 1990 Uniform Probate Code, let's start there to determine what a surviving spouse could potentially receive after the death of his or her husband or wife when no will is on file.

Following the death of a husband or wife, here's what the surviving spouse can expect to receive:

  • If children survived the deceased person -- and they are from both the surviving spouse and the decedent -- then the surviving spouse will be able to receive the entirety of the estate.
  • If the decedent has no surviving children and no surviving parents, then the surviving spouse will be able to receive all of the estate.
  • If parents and no children survive the decedent, then the surviving spouse can receive the first $200,000 worth of the estate along with 75 percent of any amount in excess of this.
  • If the decedent is survived by a mix of his or her own children -- some of whom are blood-related to the surviving spouse and some of whom are not -- then the surviving spouse will keep the first $150,000 of the estate along with 50 percent of additional assets.
  • If the decedent is survived by his or her own children -- all of whom are not blood-related to the surviving spouse -- then the surviving spouse can keep the first $100,000 of the estate along with 50 percent of additional assets.

The above is a rough idea of what surviving spouses can keep following the death of a spouse without a will. However, due to changes in the law from state to state, spouses will want to investigate the unique laws that apply to their particular situations.

Source: FindLaw, "Understanding Intestacy: If You Die Without an Estate Plan," accessed Feb. 16, 2018

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