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

A surviving spouse has many rights under Vermont law, including:

  • Intestate Share
  • Exempt Property
  • Maintenance Allowance
  • Homestead Exemption

Surviving Spouse Rights In Vermont When There Is No Valid Will

When someone dies without a valid will, they have died intestate.  An intestate estate is governed by Vermont law.  The widow’s intestate share depends on whether his or her deceased spouse died survived by descendants who are not also descendants of the surviving spouse.

Where the surviving spouse is either the only heir to the decedent or all descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse receives the entire intestate estate.

If the decedent is survived by one or more descendants who are no not descendants of the surviving spouse and are not excluded by the decedent’s will from inheriting from the decedent, the surviving spouse shall receive one-half of the intestate estate.  14 V.S.A. § 311.

Surviving Spouse Elective Share Rights  – Election Against The Will

In Vermont, the surviving spouse has the right to elect to take an elective share.  The elective share right is in lieu of any bequest in decedent’s will.  A surviving spouse generally opts to take an elective share when they are not satisfied with the bequest left in the will, or they were disinherited in the will.

The elective share amount to which the surviving spouse is entitled is one-half of the balance of the estate, after the payment of claims and expenses.  The statute (14 V.S.A. § 319) provides that:

  • The surviving spouse must be living at the time this election is made.
  • If the surviving spouse is mentally disabled and cannot make the election personally, a guardian or attorney in fact under a valid durable power of attorney may do so.

Surviving Spouse Allowances and Exemptions

 The surviving spouse also has the right to claim certain allowances and exemptions.  These include:

  • All furnishings and furniture in decedent’s household (14 V.S.A. 312);
  • If the estate consists mainly of a vessel, snowmobile, or all-terrain vehicle, the spouse is deemed the owner automatically (14 V.S.A. 313);
  • A reasonable maintenance allowance for the spouse’s expenses and maintenance until the settlement of the estate (14 V.S.A. 316);

A surviving spouse has eight months after the will is proved or letters of administration are issued to make the election to request allowances and the homestead exemption.

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