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Death and divorce: What happens when you're widowed and separate?

A divorce is tragic enough, but in some terrible circumstances, spouses could pass away during the process. What happens if that happens to you? Does it affect the course of your divorce, since it was already in progress?

For most situations, you'd instantly become a widow or widower and be entitled to all the traditional benefits of any other spouse. Having an unusual status while being separated doesn't necessarily negate how the courts distribute property after a person's death, particularly if you are still technically married.

A problem that could occur is if you and your spouse had been separated for a significant amount of time without a divorce. Perhaps you were separated for three or four years and had new girlfriends or boyfriends and potentially even children with those individuals. You wouldn't consider yourself married anymore, and you probably wouldn't consider yourself a widow or widower.

In that case, the process in the court is still similar, but you may find that the new to-be-spouse or partner of the decedent comes forward to seek out his or her fair share. By law, you technically were still married, but morally, there may be factors you need to address.

This is a complicated situation that occurs more frequently than people likely expect. If your spouse passes away before your divorce is finalized or before you have a separation agreement, you may wish to speak to your attorney about how that will affect your divorce proceedings and about other legal issues you may come across as a result of his or her untimely death.

Source: Grand Forks Herald, "What happens when a spouse dies in the middle of a divorce?," May 23, 2017

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