There are three primary consideration that determine who gets my stuff when I croak.
1. The state of my residence at the time of death and the location of any real property. Laws are different in different states;
2. If I have a valid will at the time of my death, and;
3. If I am married at the time of my death.
Kentucky's laws of inheritance focus upon kinship, family and marriage. Spouses have special statutory rights called "dower and curtesy". Divorce prior to death ends those rights.
- If I die without a will in Kentucky, my children or their descendants inherit everything, subject to spouse's rights if I am married.
- If I do not have any children, then my parents inherit my stuff, subject to spouse's rights if I am married.
- To brothers and sisters or their descendants, subject to spouse's rights if I am married.
- If my parents are dead, I have no children, descendants of children, siblings or descendants of siblings when I die, then my spouse inherits everything if I am married.
- If these first four slots, children or their descendants, parents, siblings or their descendants and spouse, are empty, then my stuff goes to more distant relatives.
- If there is no family, then my stuff goes to the state. This is called "escheat."
If I am married at the time of my death, my spouse has a statutory right to a spousal allowance of $15,000 plus one-half of the remaining stuff, whether or not I die with a will. My spouse has the option to opt-out of my will and to claim the statutory spousal dower.
So, if I am married with children and die without a will, this is what happens:
1. All my debts, expenses and taxes are paid;
2. My spouse gets the $15,000 allowance;
3. What's left over is split evenly between my spouse and my children.
With a will, I can give more to my spouse, but I cannot give less without her consent.
Of course, it can be a lot more complicated than this hypothetical example.
Tom Fox, J. D.
Southern Specialty Law Publishing Company
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This is not legal advice and I am not a lawyer.