Inheritance Rights Of Spouses

Q: Our dad quit claimed a family cottage to his three kids in 1994. He died in 2000. Two of the kids are married, one is not. Are the spouses in any way entitled to a share of the cottage when his kids pass away?

A: Inheritance rules may differ from state to state, but the basic principle and question is whether a spouse obtains any right to property inherited by the other spouse. The short answer is that in some circumstances, the spouse does obtain rights to property the other spouse might inherit.

The best example of a spouse obtaining rights to inherited property is when one spouse inherits a home and then the married couple and their children move into the home. The home becomes the marital residence and the expenses of the home may be paid from money that belongs to both spouses.

In that case it would seem reasonable that the spouse that did not inherit the property have certain rights to the home that he or she has live in and contributed money to for its upkeep.

Your question may be a bit more complicated if the family cottage was never used by the family but might have been rented and if each child used separate money that could not be considered marital money for the expenses of the cottage.

It might be hard to prove, but if all the children inherited the family cottage and also inherited money from your father, and the inherited money was kept segregated and used for the costs and expenses to keep the cottage, then you could argue that the inherited property was kept apart from the marital assets and a spouse could not make a claim to the cottage.

However, if you used money that would otherwise be considered marital money to pay for the cottage expenses, the spouse can and may claim that he or she contributed to its upkeep and that spouse has an interest in the home if and when the parties were to divorce.

The bottom line answer is that there are ways a spouse can claim an ownership interest in a cottage during a divorce proceeding.

For more information and particular information that may affect you and your siblings in the state in which you live, you should talk to an attorney that principally handles marital and family law issues. It might also be a good idea to talk to your father’s estate attorney, if he had one.


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