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Knoxville Divorce Lawyer > Blog > Divorce > How Does the Death of a Spouse During Divorce Proceedings Affect the Division of Property?

How Does the Death of a Spouse During Divorce Proceedings Affect the Division of Property?


At some point during the divorce process, a soon-to-be-divorced spouse often remarks to his or her friends that the “till death do us part” clause in the marriage vows no longer apply.  You might remark that divorce would be less of a shock if you had grown up hearing marriage vows that went “till death or divorce do us part.”  The bigger shock than having your marriage end in divorce when you and your spouse had vowed to stay together for the rest of your lives, though, is when both happen so close together that you are not sure which event was the one that ended your marriage.  People whose spouses die while a divorce is in progress struggle with adjusting to life after marriage, sometimes not even knowing whether they are widowed or divorced.  The legal questions have to do with much more than identity, though.  What happens when equitable distribution laws meet inheritance laws.  Just as you are never too you to start estate planning, it is never too early to ask a Tennessee divorce lawyer what would happen if one spouse dies before the divorce becomes final.

The Grim Reaper Cancels the Divorce

Nothing makes you feel old like reading the obituaries of the rock stars whose music was the soundtrack to your youth.  David Bowie, Prince, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin, Ginger Baker, and now Ric Ocasek of the Cars.  To add insult to injury, if you read the news of Ric Ocasek’s death is that, in the last year of his life, he separated from his wife Paulina Porizkova, whom he met on the set of the music video “Drive” in 1984.  After they separated, Ocasek amended his will, making a provision that Porizkova would not inherit anything from his estate, as the couple were in the process of a divorce.

If Ocasek had not written that provision into his will, then Porizkova would have inherited some or all of his estate, as if the couple had never separated.  Probate courts treat a couple whose divorce would have become final if the decedent had lived one day longer the same as they treat a happily married couple.  Regarding, non-probate assets, the testator specifies a beneficiary while he or she is alive; that beneficiary can be anyone, family or otherwise.  Thus, the deciding factor on whether a person inherits a non-probate asset is that the testator names them as a beneficiary, not whether they are married, divorced, or somewhere in between.  The bottom line is that, if you have separated from their spouse, you should update your will and change the beneficiary on your non-probate assets.

Let Us Help You Today

A family law attorney can help you consider the ways in which a divorce will affect your estate plan.  Patrick Looper represents people going through a divorce, as well as those seeking to modify divorce agreements.  Contact Knoxville divorce attorney Patrick L. Looper for a consultation.




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