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Does a spouse always get all of the deceased spouse's estate?

For many St. Paul residents, there is nobody who shares a more intimate and personal relationship with the individual than his or her spouse. Many spouses share virtually everything, including the handling of the family's finances. Accordingly, it is no surprise that individuals often leave their estates to their surviving spouse when it comes to estate planning.

However, this is not always true, as some individuals do not leave their assets with a surviving spouse. On occasion, this may be by design. For instance, a deceased spouse may be attempting to reduce the size of the surviving spouse's estate for estate tax purposes, and therefore the deceased spouse may have directed that certain assets be passed directly on to the couple's children or others.

In other instances, the failure to leave assets to a surviving spouse is not by design, such as where the deceased person did not have any estate plan in place at the time of death. While many individuals may simply assume that the surviving spouse gets all of the deceased spouse's property, this is not always true under Minnesota law.

Minnesota law establishes certain rules for intestacy, or when a person dies without a will in place. Under State law, a surviving spouse does inherit the deceased spouse's entire estate, but only if there were no children who survived the deceased person, or the surviving children were also descendants of the surviving spouse.

If, on the other hand, the deceased spouse had children with another individual who is not the surviving spouse, those individuals may be entitled to some of the deceased spouse's estate. In that situation, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $150,000 of the estate, along with one-half of the balance of the estate, while the surviving children receive the other half.

Accordingly, individuals should understand the consequences of not executing a will before their death. The State sets forth rules on how a person's property will be distributed in those circumstances, but it may not always match what the individual would have wanted.

Source: The Office of the Revisor of Statutes, "524.2 -- Share of the spouse," accessed on Jan. 2, 2015

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