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Can a spouse be disinherited?

It's always a shock when a spouse dies unexpectedly. That shock can turn to outright dismay, however, if you find out that you weren't even mentioned in your spouse's will.

Sometimes, this is done in an attempt to intentionally disinherit a spouse, particularly if their relationship is strained. More often, it happens in situations where the will was drafted prior to a second or third marriage. The will that was made prior to your marriage may, for example, leave everything to your adult stepchildren.

Are you simply out of luck? Not at all. Under Connecticut's laws, a surviving spouse enjoys what is known as a statutory share of their deceased spouse's estate. This share is automatically one-third of your deceased spouse's real and personal property, the terms of the will notwithstanding.

This statutory right also exists even if you are named in the will. If the terms of the will are unfavorable to you (leaving you with less than one-third of the estate), you can still elect to claim your statutory share.

There are some exceptions to this rule. If you and your spouse have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that addresses your inheritance rights. If the agreement was valid and you received whatever provisions were intended in place of your statutory share, you cannot claim a part of the estate. You also can't claim your statutory share if you abandoned your spouse without sufficient cause.

Keep in mind that your statutory share of the estate does not include anything that avoided probate. For example, if your spouse named your stepchildren as their beneficiaries on their insurance policy, that money is not part of the estate.

Issues involving a disputed will can quickly become complicated and emotional. Make sure that you obtain experienced guidance as soon as possible.

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