Am I entitled to my husband's property if he dies and my name isn't on the deed?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Name not on deed to property. Just husbands. Is wife of 11 years still entitled to half of property if sold or if he should die?

Expert Answer

Barbara Repa, a 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.

The answer depends on a few more facts"”such as where you live, when the husband took ownership of the property, and whether he has a will that addresses the property.

If there is a valid will directing who should get the property, then that likely controls at death.

If there is no will, the issue would likely be controlled by the state's laws. Very generally, only spouses, registered domestic partners, and some level of blood relatives inherit property when someone dies without a will. Spouses often get all property at death if there are no children, and a majority share of the property if there are children to share it. You can find your state's rules on this by searching the state name plus "intestate succession."

Another wrinkle that may make the matter more complicated is whether you live in a "community property" state. To oversimplify, community property is what either spouse acquires while married, except for gifts and inheritances. Spouses in community property states are generally entitled to take all community property at death, and half in the case of divorce. You can find the law on community property by searching your state name and "community property." If the husband inherited the property, or took title to it before the marriage, for example, the wife would not automatically be entitled to a share of it.

These are just general explanations, though. In some cases, for example, if there is evidence that the couple intended to own the property together and made tax and mortgage payment on it together through the years, then the legal presumptions do not apply.

If there is a lot at stake, or if someone is planning a life change based on this information, it may be worthwhile to get the opinion of a local lawyer who is experienced in estate planning. He or she should be able to assess the situation"”or to help make changes in ownership now if that's what the client seeks.