Understanding laws regarding second marriages, death and inheritance in Utah

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CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Having children by a prior marriage can create many moving parts at death.

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ilkercelik/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

In January, iconic broadcaster Larry King passed away while married to his seventh wife, Shawn. Fox News reported that they were married but estranged with a pending divorce.

It was also reported that sometime after having made his will with his wife in 2015, King secretly signed a new handwritten will that disinherited her altogether. His new will leaves his entire estate to all of his children by his prior marriages. She did not know of this hidden will and is now contesting it in court.

You should know that every state has a default estate plan for you if you die without your own will in place. If you have children by a prior marriage, that plan is probably not exactly what you want. The good news is that you can change it all simply by signing your own will.

If you die in Utah without a will and you’re married to someone who is not the parent of your children, your spouse gets the first $75,000 of your estate plus half of whatever is left after that first $75,000 is paid. Your children by your prior marriage would then get the other half after your spouse received that first $75,000 of your probate estate.

For example, if you die and your only asset was $100,000 in a bank account, that bank account would be divided so that your spouse would get the first $75,000 plus half the balance, or another $12,500. Your children by your prior marriage would divide the remaining $12,500 among themselves. So your spouse would receive $87,500, and your children by your prior marriage would divide $12,500.

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But it’s not quite that simple either. The law also provides that your spouse’s share will be reduced by the value of any property he or she receives outside of the probate process, such as by life insurance proceeds, retirement plan death benefits, pay-on-death accounts or property your spouse owned with you as a joint tenant. 

Assume that in addition to the $100,000 in your bank account, you also owned $400,000 in life insurance that was payable to your spouse at your death. Although your spouse would get that full $400,000 of life insurance proceeds, it more than offsets the $75,000 that he or she was going to get from your bank account. So your spouse would get the $400,000 from your life insurance but nothing more, while your children by your prior marriage would get the full $100,000 in the bank account.

The ultimate recipient of your property under Utah law can vary greatly depending upon the nature, title and value of your assets. Of course, this law only comes into effect if you fail to make your own estate plan through the use of a will or trust that designates how you want your assets to be handled at your death. You can avoid having the state impose its plan on your estate by creating an effective will or trust prior to your death.

Written by M. SEAN SULLIVAN, a founding partner at Brindley Sullivan.

About M. Sean Sullivan

M. Sean Sullivan is an attorney with 22 years of experience in will, trust and estate planning law, and he has worked with clients from all parts of the United States. His office offers free initial consultations at your convenience, which can be requested online or by calling 435-673-9220.

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  • Brindley Sullivan | Address: 50 E. 100 South Suite 302, St. George | Telephone: 435-673-9220 | Website.

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