Survivors have certain rights to a family member’s property after they have passed away, and these rights are governed by inheritance law. Going by this law differs from state to state, but you may be able to claim inheritance from your spouse, regardless of what has been written in their will. This right depends on whether the state follows community property law or common law.

In Massachusetts, common law is followed, therefore this article will be focused on how common law governs in regards to inheritance rights.

Common law and inheritance rights

In common law states such as Massachusetts, a spouse is not entitled to half of the property acquired during the marriage after the other spouse’s death. Property acquired during a marriage in common law states is therefore not necessarily owned by both spouses – it can be owned just by one, and therefore by default it will always remain under their ownership.

However, a surviving spouse is entitled to protection from complete disinheritance, even in common law states. The exact guidelines differ between states, however most of the time, the surviving spouse is allowed under the law to make a claim for at lease one-third of their late partner’s property.

What happens after divorce?

When a divorce has become finalized, it is common for states to have in place an automatic revocation of gifts made to a former spouse in the other spouse’s will. Therefore, it can be difficult to claim inheritance rights in regards to a deceased former spouse.

Source: Findlaw, “Inheritance law and your rights,” accessed Aug. 18, 2017