Spouse or Boyfriend/Girlfriend Dies – Do you Need a Probate?

We often get probate attorney calls for people wondering if they need to open a probate after their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend dies. Today I thought I’d let you know where to start to figure that out.

First things first, there’s a pretty big difference between spouse and significant other. One gets almost everything, one basically gets nothing (hint – if you are not married you REALLY need estate planning).

If you are married, most of your property is likely to be community property, and whether you have a will or not, most likely your property is going to go to your spouse (unless you have cut them out specifically in your will).

All joint bank accounts will be solely owned by the other account holder.

Any beneficiary designations will be distributed according to who was named.

The usual reason a spouse needs a probate is that one spouse held an account in their own name with no beneficiary designation – in that case the only way to access the account is to open a probate.

A non-married significant other, on the other hand, does not have the same distribution luxuries that a spouse has. If one is not married and not related and there is no will that person will receive no inheritance (assuming there are not beneficiary designations on any accounts).

However, much like a spouse, if there are accounts only in the name of the decedent, and there is a will in place, those accounts will be distributed according to the will (presumably to the significant other). To access those accounts opening probate will be necessary.

That’s the super short version of what you need to know.

If you have more questions, set up a time to chat with us.


Christopher Small
Probate Attorney

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