A Kentucky surviving spouse has rights under Kentucky law, including:
- Intestate Share
- Dower Share
- Personal Property Exemption
- $2,500 Withdrawal
- Elective Share
A widow’s rights differ depending on whether the deceased spouse had a will. Surviving spouse rights in Kentucky are different than the majority of states. Kentucky is one of the view states that maintains a version of dower in the state statutes. Dower is an inheritance structure that was common when wives were completely dependent on their husbands and did not own their own property. What this means for a Kentucky surviving spouse is that if a spouse dies without a will, then the spouse receives the dower share, not the entire estate.
If a Kentucky Spouse Dies without a Will (Intestacy)
If a Kentucky spouse dies without a will, the spouse’s estate is governed by the Kentucky statutes of intestacy. If the decedent has no surviving (a) children/descendants, (2) parents, (3) siblings, and/or (4) descendants of siblings, then the surviving spouse is entitled to receive the entire estate. However, if any of the foregoing survives the decedent, then the surviving spouse receives the dower share.
Surviving Spouse’s Right to Dower Share – Decedent’s Separately Owned Real Estate
If a spouse dies intestate, under Kentucky’s dower laws regarding real estate the surviving spouse receives 50% of the real property. The other half would go to the deceased spouse’s children, then grandchildren, then parents, then siblings, and then nieces and nephews. If the deceased spouse has none of the listed relatives that are alive, then the surviving spouse would be entitled to all of the deceased spouse’s separately owned real property.
Surviving Spouse’s Right Dower Share – Personal Property
If a spouse dies intestate, the spouse’s personal property (everything that is not real estate) passes in the same manner as the separately owned real estate. The surviving spouse under Kentucky law is entitled to the 50% dower share. The 50% left goes to the deceased spouse’s children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. Just like the real estate, if the listed relatives have all predeceased the decedent, then the surviving spouse would receive the entire amount.
Exemptions Available to the Surviving Spouse Under Kentucky Law
A surviving spouse in Kentucky is entitled to a homestead exemption. The homestead exemption is an alternative to dower. The surviving spouse is entitled to use the homestead real property so long as she occupies it. See Kentucky Statute 427.070
$15,000 Personal Property Exemption
A surviving spouse is also entitled to a personal property exemption of $15,000. The surviving spouse must petition to receive the $15,000.
$2,500 Can Be Withdrawn By The Surviving Spouse
Additionally, a surviving spouse is permitted to withdraw $2,500 from the deceased spouse’s bank account before the court takes control of the money. See Kentucky Statute 391.030.
A Surviving Spouse in Kentucky Can Elect To Take An Elective Share
If the deceased spouse died testate (with a will), Kentucky law gives a surviving spouse the right to elect against the will to take an “elective share” in decedent’s estate. The surviving spouse’s elective share under Kentucky law is ½ of the deceased spouse’s probate estate, excluding real estate. For real estate, the surviving spouse is only entitled to a 1/3 elective share.
Property Subject to Elective Share
In Kentucky, unlike many other states, the property subject to the elective share is the Decedent’s real estate and personalty in the probate estate. In other states, the elective share is often calculated using an augmented estate that includes assets held in trust or jointly with others. However, a decedent is not permitted to make gifts of real or personal property with the intent to defeat a surviving spouse’s claim to dower.
Deadline for Election
A surviving spouse in Kentucky has six months from the admission of the decedent’s will to probate to renounce the will and elect to take an elective share. This deadline can be extended for another six months if a petition is made to the court before the initial six month deadline runs.