Estate Planning Myth: My Spouse Will Get Everything So There’s No Need for an Estate Plan

Shot of a mature couple sharing an affectionate moment. Visual concept for a blog discussing an Estate Planning Myth: My Surviving Spouse Will Get Everything. Why Have an Estate Plan?

Many married Connecticut residents expect that their spouse will inherit most, if not all their assets after their death. They believe there is no need for an estate plan because Connecticut law will provide for the surviving spouse anyway. This common estate planning myth focuses solely on a person’s last will and testament, without considering how other parts of the estate plan may help your spouse through their grief around your loss.

Will My Spouse Really Get Everything When I Die?

If you are married and many of your assets are jointly owned, those jointly titled assets will pass to your spouse automatically upon your death. This may include:

  • Your family home
  • Vehicles held in both parties’ names
  • Joint bank accounts
  • Retirement and insurance accounts with beneficiary designation

However, this inheritance depends on the property being properly titled prior to your death. If you have not properly placed your spouse’s name on the title to your property, or have failed to complete the necessary beneficiary designations on your accounts, the money and property could end up tied up in Connecticut probate court along with your other assets. It will take time for the probate court to appoint an executor, and for that executor to complete the necessary inventory and investigations into your assets, liabilities, and potential beneficiaries. Having an estate plan can ensure the necessary paperwork is in place to speed up the process and ensure your spouse has access to the funds and property they need immediately after your death.

What are the Rights of a Surviving Spouse in Connecticut?

Your spouse’s claim to your assets after your death depends on whether you have an estate plan, and the shape of your family tree. The more complicated your family history, the more important it is for you to develop an estate plan that protects all your loved ones, rather than relying on the assumption that your spouse will inherit it all anyway.

Spousal Inheritance When There is No Will

If you are operating under the assumption that your spouse will get everything so there’s no need for an estate plan, that means the distribution of your assets will occur according to Connecticut’s intestate succession laws. It is true that if you are married and have no living descendants (including adult children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren), then your spouse will inherit the entire estate. However, if you and your spouse have children together, then your spouse will receive the first $100,000 of your estate, plus half the balance. If you have children from another relationship, your spouse will only receive half the estate. These values may seem like a lot, but you must remember that your estate includes everything in your name only at the time of your death. If you were the sole owner of a house or had substantial bank accounts, those assets may pass to your grandchildren, instead of your spouse.

Surviving Spouse’s Elective Share

Connecticut, like most other states, has laws designed to protect and support a surviving spouse’s interests after their spouse’s death. Connecticut law gives a surviving spouse the right to claim an elective share of a deceased person’s estate equal to one third the net value of all the assets. This is true regardless of whether there is a Will or how the elective share will affect other beneficiaries such as the deceased spouse’s children or parents. Careful estate planning can ensure that both your spouse and your other intended beneficiaries receive a fair share of their inheritance, so an elective share isn’t necessary.

Surviving Spouse’s Allowance During the Probate Estate Litigation

A formal estate administration can take months – sometimes more than a year – to complete. If a spouse or other dependent needs access to funds during that period, they can file a petition in the Connecticut probate court to receive a reasonable sum based on their needs and the condition of the estate. This might also include the right to occupy the family home or use the family car until the final distribution of assets is complete.

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan if I am Married?

Even if you believe that your spouse will inherit everything when you die – either because of joint title ownership or intestate succession – there are still reasons to complete an estate plan:

Providing End-of-Life Care

An estate plan isn’t just about who will inherit your assets. It also includes documents related to your end-of-life care and medical treatment. You may assume that your spouse will make medical decisions on your behalf and handle paying the bills. However, if you are legally incapacitated your spouse may need to go to the Connecticut probate court to get permission to act on your behalf. If you both have declining health or mental capacity, you may also want to make arrangements for someone else (such as an adult child) to step in if your spouse is unable to do so.

Anticipating Simultaneous Death

Estate planning is all about preparing for all possible futures. One that many couples overlook is that they may die together. If a car accident, natural disaster, or other event affects both you and your spouse, there is a chance that Connecticut will treat it as a “simultaneous death” and execute both spouses’ estates as though they have survived the other. This can create a lot of questions for your extended families, and could result in unintended consequences in dividing your family’s estate. An estate plan can anticipate simultaneous death and direct how you and your spouse want your property divided, should neither of you be alive when the estate is finalized.

Protecting Against Divorce or Other Life Changes

Often, when couples get divorced, they will not think to update their estate plan. Connecticut law carves out an ex-spouse from the person’s estate plan. However, if you are relying on intestate succession, that can leave gaps among your intended beneficiaries. A careful estate plan can be written to anticipate changes to the shape of your family tree, ensuring that a divorce or other life change will not create issues in distributing your estate.

Protect Your Spouse with the Help of an Estate Planning Attorney

An estate plan can do a lot to protect you, your assets, and your spouse in your last days, and after your death. Don’t depend on intestate succession to ensure your spouse inherits everything. Work with an estate planning attorney to plan for the future, and anticipate all the possible twists and turns along life’s road. The estate planning attorneys at Lawrence & Jurkiewicz, LLC represent clients in Hartford and Litchfield Counties. Please call us at (860) 264-1551 or contact us at your convenience to discuss your estate plan and prepare your last will and testament.

Categories: Estate Planning