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Alexandria, VA Estate Planning Blog

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Inheritance Rights of Spouses and Minors in Virginia

In Virginia married persons have certain rights to the property of a deceased spouse. Even if the spouse was disinherited by a Will, Trust or gifts during lifetime, the spouse may be entitled to numerous spousal inheritance rights. Such rights include an (i) elective share, (ii) possession of the family residence, (iii) family allowance, (iv) exempt property allowance, and (v) homestead allowance. The following discussion concerns the aforementioned text discussed the forgoing spousal rights.  

Probate Attorney Note:

Spousal rights cannot be waived or disclaimed by an ordinary contract or disclaimer. They must be waived by a Marital Agreement or a specially drafted disclaimer that contains conspicuously drafted language and certain formalities. A competent attorney will be required.

Spousal Elective Share

A surviving spouse may claim an elective share regardless of whether (i) any provision for the surviving spouse is made in the decedent's will or (ii) the decedent dies intestate.

If a claim for an elective share is made, the surviving spouse is entitled to (i) one-third of the decedent's augmented estate if the decedent left surviving children or their descendants or (ii) one-half of the decedent's augmented estate if the decedent left no surviving children or their descendants. The surviving spouse is entitled to interest at the legal rate specified in § 6.2-301 from the date of the decedent's death to the date of satisfaction of the elective share.

Timeframe for Claiming an Elective Share

The surviving spouse has a very short time frame to claim an elective share. In addition, the claim has to meet certain requirements. As it pertains to a spouse claiming elective share rights, Virginia doesn't make it easy.  

The surviving spouse of a decedent who dies domiciled in the Commonwealth may claim an elective share in the decedent's augmented estate within six months from the later of (i) the time of the admission of the decedent's will to probate or (ii) the qualification of an administrator on the decedent's intestate estate. The claim to an elective share shall be made either in person before the court having jurisdiction over administration of the decedent's estate, or by a writing recorded in the court or the clerk's office thereof, upon such acknowledgment or proof as would authorize a writing to be admitted to record under Chapter 6 (§ 55-106 et seq.) of Title 55.

The right, if any, of the surviving spouse of a decedent who dies domiciled outside of the Commonwealth to take an elective share based upon the value of property in the Commonwealth is governed by the law of the decedent's domicile at death.

Possession of Family Residence Pending Resolution

Until the surviving spouse's rights in the principal family residence have been determined and satisfied by an agreement between the parties or a final court decree, in cases (i) where the principal family residence passes under the provisions of § 64.2-200 and the decedent is survived by children or their descendants, one or more of whom are not children or their descendants of the surviving spouse, or (ii) where the surviving spouse claims an elective share in the decedent's augmented estate under this article, the surviving spouse may hold, occupy, and enjoy the principal family residence and curtilage without charge for rent, repairs, taxes, or insurance. If the surviving spouse is deprived of possession of the principal family residence and curtilage, upon the filing of a complaint for unlawful entry or detainer, he is entitled to recover possession of such residence and damages sustained by him by reason of such deprivation during the time he was so deprived. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impair the lien or delay the enforcement of such lien of the Commonwealth or any locality for the taxes assessed upon the property.

Family Allowance

 In addition to any other right or allowance, upon the death of a decedent who was domiciled in the Commonwealth, the surviving spouse and minor children whom the decedent was obligated to support are entitled to a reasonable allowance in money out of the estate for their maintenance during the period of administration, which allowance shall not continue for longer than one year if the estate is inadequate to discharge all allowed claims. The family allowance may be paid as a lump sum not to exceed $18,000, or in periodic installments not to exceed $1,500 per month for one year. It is payable to the surviving spouse for the use of the surviving spouse and minor children or, if there is no surviving spouse, to the person having the care and custody of the minor children. If any minor child is not living with the surviving spouse, the family allowance may be made partially to the spouse and partially to the person having the care and custody of the child, as their needs may appear. If there are no minor children, the allowance is payable to the surviving spouse.

The family allowance has priority over all claims against the estate.

The family allowance is in addition to any benefit or share passing to the surviving spouse or minor children by the will of the decedent, by intestate succession, or by way of elective share.

The death of any person entitled to a family allowance terminates the person's right to any allowance not yet paid.

Exempt Property Allowance

In addition to any other right or allowance, the surviving spouse of a decedent who was domiciled in the Commonwealth is entitled from the estate to value not exceeding $15,000 in excess of any security interests therein in household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects.

If there is no surviving spouse, the minor children of the decedent are entitled in equal shares to such property of the same value. If the value of the exempt property selected in excess of any security interests therein is less than $15,000, or if there is not $15,000 worth of exempt property in the estate, the spouse or minor children are entitled to other assets of the estate, if any, to the extent necessary to make up the $15,000 value.

The right to exempt property and other assets of the estate needed to make up a deficiency of exempt property has priority over all claims against the estate, except the family allowance.

The right to exempt property is in addition to any benefit or share passing to the surviving spouse or minor children by the will of the decedent, by intestate succession, or by way of elective share.

Homestead Allowance

In addition to any other right or allowance under this article, a surviving spouse of a decedent who was domiciled in the Commonwealth is entitled to a homestead allowance of $15,000. If there is no surviving spouse, each minor child of the decedent is entitled to a homestead allowance amounting to $15,000, divided by the number of minor children.

The homestead allowance has priority over all claims against the estate, except the family allowance and the right to exempt property.

The homestead allowance is in lieu of any share passing to the surviving spouse or minor children by the decedent's will or by intestate succession; provided, however, if the amount passing to the surviving spouse and minor children by the decedent's will or by intestate succession is less than $15,000, then the surviving spouse or minor children are entitled to a homestead allowance in an amount that when added to the property passing to the surviving spouse and minor children by the decedent's will or by intestate succession, equals the sum of $15,000.

If the surviving spouse claims and receives an elective share of the decedent's estate under §§ 64.2-302 through 64.2-307, the surviving spouse shall not have the benefit of any homestead allowance.

Loss of Spousal Rights (Desertion & Abandonment)

If a spouse willfully deserts or abandons the other spouse and such desertion or abandonment continues until the death of the other spouse, the party who deserted the deceased spouse shall be barred of all interest in the decedent's estate by intestate succession, elective share, exempt property, family allowance, and homestead allowance.

Probate Attorney Note

If a parent willfully deserts or abandons his minor or incapacitated child and such desertion or abandonment continues until the death of the child, the parent shall be barred of all interest in the child's estate by intestate succession.




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