Many people are surprised to learn that South Carolina law actually prohibits your from disinheriting your spouse absent their consent (i.e. a prenuptial agreement). The rights of the spouse to take from the estate will be determined by whether the will was written BEFORE or AFTER the marriage. Here are the two different scenarios.
In the first scenario, the Last Will was executed BEFORE the marriage took place. In this scenario, the law considers you an omitted spouse and presumes that your spouse simply failed to update their will to include you. S.C. Code Section 62-2-301 applies and explains that you are entitled to receive your intestate share in the estate despite what the will might say. Refer to our previous post on intestacy to see what that share would be. It’s important to know that just like most rules, there are exceptions. The omitted spouse rule may not apply if the will appears to have intentionally omitted you or your spouse has otherwise provided for you through other assets.
In the second scenario, the Last Will was executed AFTER the marriage. In this situation, the presumption is that the spouse intentionally left you out of the Last Will. Even if the spouse fully intended to leave their spouse absolutely nothing, S. C. Code Section 62-2-201 provides the spouse the ability to claim a one third share of the estate. This share is called an “elective share” as it’s not automatically given to the disinherited spouse, the spouse must elect to receive it.
Here’s an example of how these statutes might both apply to a case. Husband drafts a will prior to his marriage but while engaged to future Wife. In the will he names her as his fiancé and only provides her with a small portion of his estate, leaving the remainder to his children from his first marriage. In this scenario, the Wife should file both an Omitted Spouse Claim (which would entitle her to ½ of the estate) and an Elective Share Claim (which would entitle her to 1/3 of the estate). Should the court hold that Omitted Spouse does not apply because Husband contemplated the marriage at the time the Will was executed, then at the very least she has the right to the Elective Share.
If you are a spouse that has been disinherited, it’s crucial that you contact an attorney immediately. The attorney can give you information on how to file your claim with the court to guarantee you are protected. For example, to secure your elective share, a spouse must file a Petition with the Probate Court and the personal representative within eight months after the date of death or six months after the probate of the Last Will, whichever period last expires. Miss the deadline or fail to file with both parties and you could miss out on your inheritance. Similar time limits apply to omitted spouses. Not understanding how to value the estate’s assets when making your claim, what outside assets may or may not factor in to the estate, and how to properly file your claim could all be costly mistakes!
Important Note: Effective January 1, 2014 there were substantial changes in South Carolina’s Probate Code. While we’ve tried to update this blog, please note the date of blog posts and send us an email or call for a consult before relying on information written prior to January 1, 2014. We appreciate your understanding.