What happens to your property if your spouse dies?

house model

Understanding what happens to property when a spouse dies can sometimes feel like a whirlwind of information, made even more difficult by grief; particularly if there’s no will in place.

Fortunately, to shed a little light on the matter, we’ve outlined each potential avenue you may encounter. This covers ownership concerns around who gets the house when a spouse dies and what to do if you want to sell up after you partner passes away.

Does property automatically go to spouse or family?

Dividing property when someone passes away can sometimes be an unclear science, especially if the deceased didn’t leave any clearly stated wishes. So, when a spouse dies, who gets the house?

More often than not, the estate will fall to a surviving spouse, but there are sometimes instances where this isn’t the case. We’ve tackled the processes you should expect to go through in such instances:

Where there’s a will there’s (usually) a way

It becomes easier to determine what happens to property when a spouse dies, if they’ve left a will outlining plans for their estate. Their wishes are legally binding, and, in usual circumstances, your spouse will have accounted for property. But just because there’s a will in place, does a spouse automatically inherit everything?

Sometimes, a will isn’t particularly clear and leaves plenty of room for conjecture. For instance, the deceased might not have left their property in anyone’s name specifically (and died with the house still solely in their name), or they left it to several beneficiaries in common (we’ll go into this!).

As such, you should apply for probate, which allows you and other listed beneficiaries to decide the outcome of the estate between you.

What to do if your spouse dies without writing a will

Dying without any arrangements in place at all is called dying intestate, and brings about even more complications than just an unclear will. If spousal partners don’t share joint tenancy, and there isn’t a will in place to clarify the line of inheritance, you’ll, again, be required to apply for probate.

We’ve touched on probate briefly above, but it becomes even more important in instances of intestacy. Fortunately, as a surviving spouse, you will have first refusal of your marital home, but the rest of the estate will have to be determined between yourself and your family.

What to expect if you were joint tenants

Joint tenancy is an agreement that gives you and your spouse equal ownership over property. In short, this means that, when your spouse unfortunately passes away, you will continue to own your home, as before, and won’t need to divide the asset between your family.

Importantly, under the right of survivorship, joint tenancy supersedes the terms of your spouse’s will, and cannot be revoked or contested. This allows you to decide on the future of your home independently, whether you choose to continue to live their or sell.

The difficulty of dealing with tenants in common

Being listed as a tenant in common can bring about certain complications. Namely, this type of agreement doesn’t automatically entitle you, as the surviving spouse, to complete ownership of property, just because you’ve lived there and have shares of your own. Instead, because you only hold an equal split of the property shares, you will continue to only own your half of the home.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t attain complete ownership, however, as you’ll (likely) be listed in the will, it merely mandates you to follow the necessary legal process to get there. It is worth remembering, though, that your partner’s will may have requested their shares be split between several beneficiaries, such as you and your children.

Do separated partners have a claim to property?

We’ve touched on the line of inheritance in a happy marriage, but does a spouse automatically inherit everything even when separated? In short, as long as you haven’t formally divorced your partner, you are still a legally married couple. This entitles a surviving spouse to legitimately claim any assets and property left behind by their deceased wife or husband.

However, be aware that your separated partner may have amended their will following your split, and your share of the estate may have been reduced in some part.

Selling inherited property

Deciding to sell your inherited home after the death of a spouse is rarely an easy choice. But, for a variety of reason, it could be the best course of action.

Whether the mortgage is too costly, the house now feels too big, or the home is full of too many memories you can’t bear to live alone with, we’ve walked you through a couple of considerations you should make if you’re thinking about selling.

Consider your finances

A large factor in determining whether a move is best is your current financial position. For instance, you might not be able to continue paying your existing mortgage, particularly if you mainly relied on your spouse’s earnings. This becomes an even bigger money management exercise if you still have children to support.

If you’re struggling, the last thing you need is a drawn-out selling process, that continues to place a burden on you, during an already difficult time. Avoid the stresses of battling estate agents, potential buyers, and dealing with niggling negotiations by considering a property purchasing company that makes selling your home quickly a breeze, and allows you to begin the next chapter of your life in comfort.

Take a measured approach

Before you commit to selling your home. Consider whether it’s something you really want to do. After all, the chances are, emotions will be running high and there’s countless treasured memories you’re desperate to hold onto. So, don’t be afraid to take your time.

If possible, surround yourself with family and try to digest as much helpful advice as possible. However, it’s crucial you never feel as though somebody is making the decision for you, especially if you’re caught in two minds.

 

Spousal death is always a difficult period, sometimes made trickier by having to tackle the outcome of property. However, despite the legalities that often plague the proceedings, there’s usually a straightforward answer to ownership, and knowing what happens to property when a spouse dies is usually a weight off grieving shoulders. For even more expert property advice, enjoy exploring the latest over on our blog.

We are proud members of...

  • NAPB
  • RICS
  • NAEA
  • The Property Ombudsman
  • Trading Standards

We are proud to be the most regulated property buyer operating in the ‘Quick House Sale’ industry. We are an active member of the NAPB (National Association Of Property Buyers) and are both RICS & NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) regulated, which means you can have every confidence of selling your home with us quickly & easily.