What is the elective share?

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If a spouse dies, then the surviving spouse may elect to take a one-third share of the deceased’s estate. This is called an elective share. Basically, a spouse can’t be disinherited. The surviving spouse has a right to the elective share. The only way that a surviving spouse can be completely disinherited is through a prenuptial agreement, where both spouses can agree to waive any claims to an elective share of each other’s respective estates.

Your elective estate includes not only property in your name alone, but also most assets with beneficiary designations such as bank accounts, securities, IRA accounts, your interest in jointly-held property, annuities, certain interests in trusts, the cash value of life insurance, and even property that you might transfer to a child during the one-year period preceding your death. In other words, you cannot easily ignore your spouse’s rights to his or her elective share. Many clients ask me how the surviving spouse will be able to claim his or her share if the assets are left in trust for a child. The answer is that the surviving spouse can file a probate proceeding and force the child to return the assets to satisfy the elective share obligation.

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