Divorce and inheritance

Finders InternationalBy Legal Futures Associate Finders International

What happens if you divorce your husband, and he dies three weeks later. Are you entitled to anything?

This is Money featured this very question earlier this month. The husband had been a teacher and had claimed a pension for the past ten years. The couple had a 23-year-old daughter who intended to study for a PhD once she had sorted out her father’s estate.

In the feature, the woman said she had obtained her divorce through a government website and had not received any legal advice before doing so.

Ex-husband’s estate

This is Money’s Tanya Jeffries replied that the women’s situation sounded “sad and complicated”. The fact that she hadn’t received legal advice meant that she was also unlikely to have received a financial settlement, which would have made the situation relating to her husband’s estate much clearer.

Legal experts specialising in divorce and inheritance also replied to the question.

Rosalind Fitzgerald, legal director at Rayden Solicitors, wanted to know if the woman had received a decree nisi or a decree absolute. The decree absolute means the divorce is finalised and the marriage legally ended.

No fault divorces

The no-fault divorce was introduced in April of this year, but the woman’s divorce would have used the old terminology. However, it was unlikely that the couple would have reached a legally binding agreement about the separation of their finances before his death, as this would have needed to have been made into a court order.

This would then have been enforceable against her ex’s estate.

She advised the woman to speak to the man’s teaching pension scheme to find out if dependents were entitled to any benefits after the man’s death. If the ex-wife had sought legal advice before her divorce, her husband could have shared a portion of the pension with her through a pension sharing order, which would have given her an income for the rest of her life.

Inheritance Act

Former spouses may also be able to claim for reasonable financial provision against a late ex-spouse’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 if they have not been adequately provided for.

The court treats people in cases like this as spouses, rather than former spouses as long as claims are brought within 12 months of the death and the person has not remarried.

The couple’s daughter can also make a claim if her father did not make adequate financial provision for her.

Keeping affairs in order

Samantha O’Sullivan, an associate solicitor for estate planning at Parker Bullen, said the case highlighted how important it was for people to keep their affairs in order. She asked if this husband had left a will and who inherited the estate.

Unless he had revised this before he died, the will probably provided for the wife as his widow or otherwise his daughter. If a decree absolute had been issued, then the estate would pass to their daughter.

But if he had made his wife his executor, that appointment would still apply, and she would be responsible for administering his estate.

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