Probate, trust, guardianship and inheritance litigation
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Surviving Spouse Rights Alabama

Surviving Spouse rights in Alabama (also known as widow’s rights) include:

  • Intestate Share
  • Elective Share
  • Homestead Allowance
  • Exempt Property
  • Family Allowance
  • Pretermitted Spouse

What Are Surviving Spouse Rights in Alabama If There Is No Will?

When an individual dies without a will, they have died intestate.  Under Alabama law, a statutory framework determines how a decedent’s estate will be distributed.  The surviving spouse’s share of the estate depends on the other heirs of the decedent.  See Who Are Next Of Kin In Alabama?

Share of Surviving Spouse – No Children or Parent of Decedent

If the only survivor is a surviving spouse then the surviving spouse receives the entire intestate estate of the decedent.

Share of Surviving Spouse – No Children But Parent(s) of Decedent

If there are no surviving issue (children or lineal descendants) but the decedent is survived by one or more parents, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $100,000 in value, plus one-half of the balance of the intestate estate.

Share of Surviving Spouse – All Children Are Also Of Surviving Spouse

If there are descendants of the decedent, all of whom are the children of the surviving spouse, regardless of how many, the surviving spouse receives the first $50,000 of the estate, and one-half of the rest, with the children receiving the other half.

Share of Surviving Spouse – Children But Not All With Surviving Spouse

If there are descendants of the decedent, regardless of how many, one or more of who are not issue of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse receives one-half of the intestate estate.

See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-41.

What Are A Pretermitted Surviving Spouse’s Rights In Alabama?

If a person makes a Will and then marries a person not provided for in the Will, the surviving spouse is called a pretermitted spouse.  Under Alabama law, a pretermitted spouse is entitled to take a share of the estate as if the decedent died intestate.  See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-90(1).

Surviving Spouse’s Right to Elective Share or Election Against a Will

Under Alabama law, a surviving spouse has a right to share in a decedent’s estate.  In essence, a surviving spouse’s Right of Election renders it impossible to disinherit a spouse. The elective share is only available when the decedent left a valid will under Alabama law.  Absent a will, the surviving spouse would be entitled to a share of the decedent’s estate under the intestacy laws noted above, without the need for an elective share.

Alabama Code Section 43-8-70 provides that a surviving spouse has the right to override the Will’s terms and receive the lesser of: One-third of the decedent’s estate; or All of the decedent’s estate subtracted by the value of the surviving spouse’s separate estate.  Read Alabama Supreme Court: How To Prove Proper Execution Of a Will.

Separate Estate –Defined

The “separate estate” includes all of the property owned by the surviving spouse, after the decedent’s death outright or in fee simple absolute and all legal and equitable interests in property acquired by the surviving spouse having survived the decedent. This separate estate also includes all income or beneficial interests: under a trust, proceeds of decedent’s life insurance, pension plan, profit-sharing, stock bonus, deferred compensation, disability, death benefit or other such plan established by an employer. See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-70(b).


The value of the elective share is satisfied based on a defined priority of assets and property. Following this statutorily-prescribed method, the remaining property of the estate is equitably apportioned to satisfy the surviving spouse’s elective share. See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-75.

Alabama law further provides for an abatement order pursuant to Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-76.

Deadline for Filing The Elective Share

The petition for the elective share must be made within six months from later date of the decedent’s death or the probate of decedent’s will. There are exceptions to this these statutory time limitations affording  the court some leeway. See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-73(a). It is important, however, to act as quickly as possible to avoid any pitfalls that may result from a failure to make such an election.

Surviving Spouse’s Allowances and Exemptions Under Alabama Law

A surviving spouse is entitled to several allowances and exemptions under Alabama law.  These allowances and exemptions are in place to help and protect the surviving spouse.

Homestead Allowance

A surviving spouse of a decedent who was domiciled in Alabama is entitled to a homestead allowance of $15,000.  Pursuant to Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-110(a) “the homestead allowance is exempt from and has priority over all claims against the estate. Homestead allowance is in addition to any share passing to the surviving spouse or minor or dependent child by the will of the decedent unless otherwise provided in the will, by intestate succession or by way of elective share.”

Further, the surviving spouse may retain possession of the home where he or she resided with the decedent until homestead is ultimately assigned.  This stay is free from the payment of rent.  The obligation to pay rent, if any, is the responsibility of the decedent’s estate. See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-114.

Exempt Property

In addition to homestead allowance, the surviving spouse is entitled to receive, property of a value not exceeding $3,500.  See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-111.

Family Allowance

The surviving spouse who was supported by the decedent is entitled to a reasonable allowance in money from the state for maintenance purposes during the period of estate administration.This allowance may not continue in excess of one year if the estate is inadequate to discharged allowed claims.  See Ala. Code. Sec. 43-8-112.

Marital Agreements Between Decedent and Surviving Spouse

Marital Agreements which are often referred to as prenuptial agreements, ante-nuptial agreements, and post-nuptial agreements, can waive or create rights upon the death of a spouse.  It is imperative to have a lawyer review these agreements who is familiar with the probate process to properly address any rights you may have at death or as a surviving spouse.  It is also important to have these documents properly reviewed by experienced probate lawyers to ensure any death time provisions are properly addressed prior to signing any of these agreements.  Many of the rights of a surviving spouse can be waived or increased in properly drafted agreements.

Requirement to File a Known Will

Under Alabama law, wills shall not be effective unless filed for probate within five years from the death of the Testator.  Essentially anyone interested in the estate that has custody of the will may have the will proved before the probate court.