Is a Spouse Entitled to an Inheritance in Maryland?

Estate planning – the process of deciding what happens to your worldly possessions after you pass away – is an important legal process that needs to be done at some point during your life. While most people associate estate planning with individuals in the twilight years of their lives or with dangerous professions or lifestyles, the reality is that estate planning can be done at any point in your life, regardless of the likelihood of an imminent demise. One of the common things individuals want to know when thinking about estate planning is whether their spouse will inherit their stuff after they are gone.

The answer is that there are a number of factors that can influence whether your spouse gets your things after you pass away. The simplest way to ensure that your spouse gets your stuff is to create a will that says as much. However, if you do not have a will, there is a good chance that your spouse will still get some of your things through a process called intestacy, but that process is set in stone by law, and you cannot control it.

To have our Maryland estate and trusts lawyers go over your case, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras at (410) 694-7291.

How Your Spouse Can Be Entitled to an Inheritance in Maryland

There are a lot of different ways that your spouse can be entitled to your inheritance in Maryland. Some ways give you more control over what happens, while other ways that a spouse inherits things are a statutory process. Our Baltimore estate and trusts lawyers will break down the ways that your spouse can inherit, their benefits, and potential downsides.

Inheritance Through a Will

The easiest way to ensure that your spouse gets your inheritance after you pass away is through a will. A “last will and testament,” or will, is a legal document where you say what is going to happen to your stuff after you die.

In a will, you can more or less give your things to whoever, or whatever, you want. You can leave everything to your spouse, your children, a friend, or even a charity or other organization. Some people have even left some of their assets to pets in wills. The choice is really up to you.

The requirements for a valid will in Maryland are laid out in Md. Code, Ests. & Trs. Art., § 4-102. First, the person making the will must be at least 18 years old. Second, the will needs to be in writing. Finally, the signing of the will needs to be witnessed by two credible people, who themselves also need to sign off on the will.

A will gives you the most control of where things go after you pass on. It is also one of the only ways to give your things to parties outside of your blood relatives. If you do not have a will, friends, for example, cannot receive any of the assets that you may want them to.

Inheritance Through Intestacy

The other primary way that assets are distributed after somebody passes away is through a process called intestacy. Intestacy is what happens when a person dies without a valid will. This process is specified by law. In Maryland, the basic framework for intestacy is detailed in Md. Code, Ests. & Trs. Art., § 3-102. In intestacy, who gets what portion of your estate depends on the circumstances. If you have a spouse and no children, your spouse gets everything. If you have children but no spouse, your kids get everything. However, if you have a living spouse and children, your spouse gets some and your children get the rest, but the specific split depends on whether your children are minors and whether any children are from someone other than your current spouse (e.g., from a previous marriage).

While this may seem like a streamlined process, it is important to note that you have zero control over where your assets go. This could be problematic in some cases. For example, suppose you and your spouse are planning on getting a divorce or have separated but have not yet formally completed divorce proceedings. In that case, were you to drop dead on the spot, your spouse that you are planning on getting divorced from would still get everything, despite the fact that both parties are planning to not be spouses anymore. This is true even if you and your spouse have both found other partners who you would prefer your stuff to go to.

Joint Ownership in Maryland

Not everything your spouse gets after you pass away will be technically considered part of your spouse’s “inheritance.” There are some assets that your spouse may get automatically. These are things that are considered to be “jointly owned.” This means that you and your spouse own the entire asset together. The implication of this is that if you or your spouse passes away, there is no “transfer” of ownership since you both own the asset together. Thus, the surviving spouse would own the asset all by themselves at the end.

Probably the most common jointly owned asset between spouses is a home. This is called a “tenancy by the entirety.” Here, if you pass away, even if you do not have a will or other means of transferring possession of the home, your spouse automatically “gets” the home because they already co-owned it with you. Another thing that is treated this way is bank accounts. So, your spouse will have your bank account after you pass on, even if it is not expressly mentioned in your will.

Talk to Our Maryland Estate and Trusts Lawyers Right Away

Rice, Murtha & Psoras’s Annapolis estate and trusts attorneys are ready to help you out when you dial (410) 694-7291.