Not every New Yorker has an estate plan that details how he or she wants property distributed after death. Similarly, not every family situation is a smooth one where even an intestate case is relatively easy to deal with where the state will simply follow the law in determining what the spouse and other heirs get and there is little dispute. One situation that can be confusing is if there is a surviving spouse, but the law requires that he or she be disqualified. To address this situation, it is important for the heirs to have legal assistance.

The surviving spouse will not be able to inherit the decedent’s property if there was a final judgment or decree of divorce, if the marriage was annulled, if it was nullified or dissolved because of absence if this was in effect at the time of death. If the marriage had been voided because it was incestuous, bigamous or prohibited will also eliminate the surviving spouse as an intestate heir. Had the spouse gotten a final divorce decree, an annulment or dissolution due to absence and it occurred outside the state, it is not viewed as valid.

When there was a separation judgment or decree and it is viewed as valid under New York law and it was in effect at the time of the person’s death, then the surviving spouse is not able to be the legal heir. If there was abandonment on the part of the surviving spouse and that continued until the death, the surviving spouse cannot receive the intestate inheritance. Finally, if the spouse was obligated to provide support to the decedent, failed to do so or refused to do so despite having the means, that spouse cannot inherit the intestate property unless the marriage had resumed and continued until the spouse who needed support died.

Dealing with estate administration after a person has died without a will can be complicated enough without a spouse who was no longer involved with the decedent seeking to receive part of the estate. For people who are confronted with this difficult situation, having legal assistance is imperative. Calling for advice about estate administration is key.