Although a last will and testament remains valid indefinitely, you should still review your estate planning every few years to account for changes in your life. Leaving a will unchanged for many years may lead to a situation where someone close to you is unintentionally omitted from receiving a share of your estate. Conversely, there may be situations in which you wish to exclude someone provided for in an earlier will.
Ex-Mayor’s Fiancée Left Out of Will
Earlier this year the longtime former mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, passed away at the age of 74. Cianci held the mayor’s office for more than 20 years before he was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2002 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Just before entering prison, Cianci signed a last will and testament.
Cianci never amended the will in the subsequent 14 years. Shortly before his death, he announced his engagement to a woman who would have been his third wife. Sadly, Cianci died before the couple married. As a local news report explained, since Cianci never amended his will, the fiancée was excluded from sharing in his estate.
How California’s Omitted Spouse Rule Works
California law provides for probate situations where there is an “omitted spouse.” Let’s say you make a will and later get married but fail to amend the will to provide for your new spouse. In such cases, the law presumes you intended to provide for your spouse. The “omitted spouse” is entitled to a share of your estate equal to one-half of your share of any community (or quasi-community) property and up to one-half of your separate property.
The omitted spouse rule only applies if there is no written evidence that you intended to exclude your spouse from sharing in your estate. For example, if you specifically state in your will that you intentionally made no provision for your spouse, then your spouse is entitled to nothing. Similarly, if you provide for your spouse through a revocable living trust, the omitted spouse rule is inapplicable. A spouse may also waive his or her right to an inheritance under a prenuptial or similar agreement.
The omitted spouse rule only applies to lawfully married persons. In a situation like the Cianci estate, where the couple was only engaged, California’s omitted spouse rule would not apply. A fiancée has no special legal standing with respect to inheritance.
Get Advice from a California Estate Planning Attorney
As the Cianci situation illustrates, you should always review your estate plan whenever there is a major change in your life. You do not want to accidentally leave a loved one out of your estate if it can be avoided. A San Diego estate planning lawyer can review your existing will, trust, and other documents, and advise you of any necessary changes. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you need to speak with an attorney today about your estate planning needs.