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Surprise! You Can’t Easily Disinherit Your Spouse in the U.S.

It's Not Easy to Disinherit Your Spouse in the U.S.

Believe it or not, in Maryland it isn’t easy to disinherit your spouse. But the same is not true for other family members – generally, you can use your will or trust to disinherit your brothers and sisters, your nieces and nephews, or even your very own children and grandchildren.

However, in Maryland, the majority of states and the District of Columbia, you can’t intentionally disinherit your spouse unless your spouse actually agrees to receive nothing from your estate in a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement.


Beware: Spousal Disinheritance Laws Vary Widely From State to State

Unfortunately, there isn’t one set of rules that govern what a surviving spouse is entitled to inherit. Instead, the laws governing spousal inheritance rights, referred to as “community property laws” or “elective share laws” depending on the state where you live or own property. These laws vary widely:

  • In some states the surviving spouse’s right to inherit is based on how long the couple was married.
  • In some states the surviving spouse’s right to inherit is based on whether or not children were born of the marriage.
  • In some states the surviving spouse’s right to inherit is based on the value of assets included in the deceased spouse’s probate estate.
  • In some states the surviving spouse’s right to inherit is based on an “augmented estate” which includes the deceased spouse’s probate estate and non-probate assets.

For example, in Maryland a surviving spouse has the option to receive a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate called the “elective share.” The elective share is equal to one-third (1/3) of the deceased spouse’s “net estate,” if the deceased spouse had surviving issues (children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren) or one-half (1/2) of the deceased spouse’s net estate, if the deceased spouse had no surviving issue. The net estate is the property of the decedent passing by Will, without deduction for state or federal estate or inheritance taxes, and reduced by: (1) funeral and administrative expenses; (2) family allowance; and (3) enforceable claims and debts against the estate.

Aside from this, state laws also vary widely regarding the time limit a surviving spouse has to seek their inheritance rights, which can range anywhere from a few months to a few years.


Disinherited Spouses Need to Act Quickly!

If your spouse has attempted to disinherit you, you must seek legal advice as soon as possible before state law bars you from enforcing your rights. At McDonald Law Firm, our experienced estate planning attorney can help you weigh all of your options and protect your interests as a surviving spouse. Contact us today at (443) 741-1088 for a free no obligation consultation.




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For help with estate planning, special needs planning or elder law throughout Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore County; and Baltimore City, contact McDonald Law Firm, LLC.

McDonald Law Firm, LLC

Columbia Office

10500 Little Patuxent Pkwy, #420
Columbia, MD 21044-3563

Bethesda Office:

(By Appointment Only)

7315 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 800 West
Bethesda, MD 20814

Washington, DC Office:

2101 L Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington, DC 20037

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