Articles Posted in Pretermitted Spouses

Florida: A Safe Haven for Surviving Spouses in Probate

          Marriage is one of the most sacred and respected institutions in our society.  Both state and federal governments provide benefits to encourage marriage with beneficial incentives. Florida provides several benefits for surviving spouses as illustrated in Florida’s Constitution and Probate Code. This article reviews some of those benefits but is not an exhaustive list.

First, surviving spouses receive protection under Florida’s Homestead Exemption.  The Florida Constitution prohibits a decedent from freely devising his or her homestead, when the decedent is survived by a spouse or minor child. Art. X, § 4 (c), Fla. Const.  However, the decedent can devise a homestead to his surviving spouse if there is no minor child. § 732.4015 (1), Fla. Stat. (2010).  If a decedent tries to devise a homestead to someone other than a surviving spouse or minor child under a will, then the homestead property will be transferred to the decedent’s surviving spouse and the decedent’s descendants, with the surviving spouse receiving a life estate in the homestead and the descendants receiving a remainder, per stirpes at the decedent’s death.§ 732.401 (1), Fla. Stat. (2012).  Alternatively, “the surviving spouse may elect to take an undivided one-half interest in the homestead as a tenant in common, with the remaining undivided one-half interest vesting in the decedent’s descendants in being at the time of the decedent’s death, per stirpes.”  § 732.401 (2), Fla. Stat. (2012).  To receive the homestead exemption, “an individual must have an ownership interest in a residence that gives the individual the right to use and occupy it as his or her place of abode.”  In re Alexander, 346 B.R. 546, 551 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. 2006).

Effect of Marital Agreement on Entitlement to Probate Estate

When it comes to estate planning, multiple factors can influence the distribution of the estate, besides a trust document or a will. One such device is a martial agreement made between spouses prior to their marriage. The marital agreement can change the distribution of the estate if the agreement addresses the surviving spouse’s rights to the estate in the event of a death. The Second District recently decided a case involving a marital agreement and a subsequent claim against the estate for additional money allegedly pursuant to the agreement.

In Northern Trust v. Shaw, the surviving spouse, Natalia Shaw, sued the estate of her deceased husband for money allegedly due to her under their marital agreement (also known as a prenuptial agreement). Mrs. Shaw and her husband Andrew were married in February 2009. Before they were married, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw executed a marital agreement that provided for the disposition of their assets in the event of their deaths. Under the agreement, Mrs. Shaw waived her rights to Mr. Shaw’s estate except for a few items: (1) $500,000 from Mr. Shaw’s estate, (2) any testamentary gifts made by Mr. Shaw during the marriage, (3) any retirement and pension benefits in which Mrs. Shaw was named the beneficiary, and (4) a life estate interest in any principle residence owned by Mr. Shaw.

What Effect Does Divorce or Remarriage Have On Your Estate Plan

Anytime there is a major life change, whether it is the birth of a child, marriage, or divorce, your estate plan should evolve as your life evolves. But do any of these events result in automatic changes to your estate plan, or do you have to update your estate plan after each event?

In most states, including Florida, a divorce may automatically affect the validity of the terms of your will. Fla. Stat. § 732.507(2) provides that any provision of a will that affects a former spouse will be treated as if the former spouse died at the time of the divorce, unless the will or divorce judgment expressly provides otherwise. This means that when your divorce is official, any portion of your will devising any of your assets to your ex-spouse will be deemed void. However, if you want to provide for your ex-spouse in some fashion after the divorce, it is important that your will clearly reflect that intent.

In today’s always changing and fast moving society, many individuals marry, divorce, and remarry over the course of their lives. Often times, a husband and wife will execute a joint will or separate wills during their marriage, leaving a substantial portion of their assets to one another. But, what is the effect of divorce upon a will if a new will is not executed subsequent to the divorce? Will the ex-spouse obtain assets that he or she was bequeathed or devised in a will executed during the previous marriage? Will the deceased’s current spouse be entitled to any of the deceased’s property that was bequeathed to the former spouse?

The Florida legislature has addressed these concerns in the Florida Statutes. In Florida, under what is known as the “Pretermitted Spouse Statute,” a spouse who marries an individual after that individual has executed his or her will is entitled to receive a share of the deceased individual’s estate equal in value to what the surviving spouse would have received if the deceased had died intestate (i.e., without a will). Fla. Stat. § 732.301. The surviving spouse is entitled to collect his or her pretermitted share from other property that was supposed to pass through intestacy and from property that was devised to beneficiaries under the will. Fla. Stat. § 733.805. The surviving spouse will continue taking devised property from individuals under the will until the pretermitted share is fully satisfied.
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What happens when you marry someone after they have already made a will and sometime after the marriage your spouse dies without revising that will or making a new will? For example, Joe, a successful businessman from North Miami, creates a will leaving all of his property to his two sons. Several weeks later, Joe meets Sally, a doctor from Palm Beach, and they get married. Unfortunately, on their honeymoon Joe gets into an accident and dies without revising his will to include Sally. It may seem that because Sally is not provided for in the will before marriage that she will not be able to inherit from Joe’s estate.

However, Florida Statute 732.301 addresses this very scenario and provides that the surviving spouse will receive a share in the estate of their deceased spouse equal to what they would have received had their spouse died without a will (intestate). The spouse will then receive a share of the estate

When this occurs, the spouse is considered pretermitted.

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