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Home » Estate Litigation » How much of an estate is a spouse entitled to?

When a couple gets married, assets often become jointly owned, unless each party purposely keeps property separate. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse typically expects assets to pass to him or her, unless different arrangements are made and laid out in an estate plan. Still, spouses in New Jersey may be entitled to more than they are left.

A woman in another state recently questioned how much her husband left her versus how much he left his daughter from a previous marriage. She claims that he left her their condo, but he named his daughter as the beneficiary of his life insurance and brokerage accounts. The value of those accounts far exceeded the value of the home.

In this woman’s home state, she is entitled to an elective share, which means she is entitled to a certain percentage of her deceased husband’s estate. If she wishes to seek her fair share of the estate, even though the money has already been paid out to the daughter, she can take legal action to claim the elective share. The sooner she does this, the better, as there is a statute of limitations on this type of claim.

How much of an estate a spouse is entitled to varies by state. In New Jersey, a surviving spouse may claim an elective share that is equal to one-third of the decedent’s estate, even if the estate plan left him or her less than that. Anyone wishing to claim an elective share may be able to negotiate a settlement without having to go to court. However, some may find litigation is necessary to resolve this type of situation. Either way, legal counsel can help one take the steps necessary to seek a fair share of a deceased spouse’s estate.