There were two deaths in the celebrity world recently that involved marital separations, highlighting a peculiar issue in estate law, according to Forbes in "Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain And Estate Planning When You Are Separated."
The deaths were of fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who both committed suicide while being separated from their spouses. If Spade and Bourdain had gotten divorces, then their spouses would not be entitled to any portion of their estates. If the spouses were included in the estate plan, then, after a divorce, they would ordinarily be “written out” by most States’ laws. However, that does not happen when a couple is merely separated.
The spouse of a deceased person generally retains full rights to the marital estate. That means if there is no estate plan, the spouse will ordinarily receive the entire estate through the laws of intestate succession. If there is an estate plan, then the spouse receives anything the plan says he or she gets. Moreover, if the spouse does not receive enough of the total assets of the marital estate, then the spouse can usually elect to take his/her spousal elective share (the amount varies between States).
A person separated from their spouse or contemplating a divorce should make his/her first call to a matrimonial attorney and his/her second call to an estate planning attorney. Any actions that a spouse desires to take with respect to changing their estate plan should be accomplished upon separation and before the filing of a divorce complaint.
An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to assist you with addressing the many complex estate planning issues that surround a marital separation or divorce.
Reference: Forbes (June 12, 2018) "Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain And Estate Planning When You Are Separated."