Spousal property can be separated in limited circumstances.New York law forbids residents from completely disinheriting a surviving spouse. If a person is legally married at the time of their death, their spouse will automatically inherit a percentage of their assets—even if the spouse has been intentionally excluded from the deceased person’s will or trust. However, there are a few important exceptions.

Limitations on a Spouse’s Right to Inherit 

The surviving spouse may not be entitled to certain portions of the estate if:

  • The assets were acquired before the marriage. A decedent may keep funds and property acquired prior to marriage from their spouse, as long as the property was kept separate from marital assets. For example, if a woman dies during her second marriage and she has kept her engagement ring from the first marriage in a safe deposit box in her name only and named her daughter as beneficiary, her surviving husband may not have any claim to the ring.
  • Gifts or inheritances were given solely to the decedent. Similar to assets received before marriage, a spouse can retain sole ownership of cash gifts and property received during the marriage as long as these assets do not commingle with the marital property. For example, if your husband inherited money from his uncle’s estate while you were married, you may not have a claim to the inheritance unless your husband deposited these funds into a bank account with shared access (such as a joint savings or checking account).
  • Gifts were given with a surviving spouse’s consent. If you agreed to a gift of cash or property to a third party, you forfeit your right to claim any of those funds. 
  • The property was transferred to a third party before January 1, 1991. The law excludes surviving spouses from claiming property transferred to others in 1990 or earlier.

Our experienced New York estate litigation lawyers can help you get your rightful share of the marital property, giving you and your beneficiaries the security you deserve for years to come. Contact Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group today through our online form to learn how we can help.

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