Common misconceptions about spousal inheritance

One thing I am passionate about is dispelling common misconceptions about estate planning. I believe it is really important to have your affairs in order so that when you pass, your loved ones are taken care of and they do not have to be overburdened with making arrangements during the emotional turmoil of mourning your passing.

It always surprises me how many people have not taken the time to properly plan their estate, mostly because they incorrectly assume that when they die, everything goes to the spouse. This is actually not the case. If you die without a will (called ‘intestate’), a portion of your estate goes to your spouse and a portion goes to your children. For example, if the house where you and your family live is in your name and you pass away (and you do not have a will in place), by default the house will become jointly owned by your wife and children as tenant in common (no rights of survivorship).

While this sounds okay to a lot of people, it may render the spouse incapable of accessing the assets needed to take care of the family, for example, getting a home equity loan or selling the home or business when someone passes. There will be issues as to which things are part of the estate and which things are owned jointly with rights of survivorship (passing outside the terms of the will or intestate estate) – joint bank accounts and houses owned jointly by a husband and wife are common examples. The spouse cannot be disinherited, so there is a right that can be asserted by the surviving spouse to take a minimum portion of the estate before anything goes to children or others.

Setting up your estate is crucial if you want to ensure that your family is able to make use of the property that you pass down to them. Your attorney can help you prepare the right documents to accomplish your goals.