When an individual dies, does his or her spouse automatically inherit the estate?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Tobykelly asked...

My mom remarried and her husband of 7 years in the state of mississippi passed away. Now we have came to realize that her husband left a quit claim deed leaving the house to her and her stepson. My question is one is this leagal? I thought the wife qutomatically got the family home. And second question the deed say Her AND stepson.... Can she sell the house then?

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a Caring.com senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

Lives and property ownership can get complicated, particularly where there is more than one marriage"”and that pokes holes in the popular myth that spouses automatically take their mate's property at death.

There may be all kinds of logical reasons that your mom's husband decided to transfer title to his house as he did. He may have done it to protect her interest in his house, which he may have owned on his own or with some other person before they married. He may have wanted to be sure his son had an interest in the house.

In a quitclaim deed, a person specifies that he or she is giving up interest and ownership in property"”and giving it to one or more other people. In the situation you describe, if your mom's husband finalized a quitclaim deed on the house during his lifetime, then he actually didn't own the property at his death; ownership had already passed to your mom and his son.

To your second question: If the quitclaim deed specifies your mom AND the stepson, then they own it jointly. The stepson would have to agree to a sale and would be entitled to half the proceeds"”unless he wanted to give up his interest in the property, for example, by quitclaiming the half of his ownership to her alone.