There are many reasons why someone may not want to leave an inheritance to their spouse. Perhaps they have had a miserable or abusive relationship that they didn’t believe they could end because their religion forbids divorce. Maybe one spouse has already entered cognitive decline and would likely frivolously spend any assets they received as an inheritance. Concerns about taxes or state benefits can also play a role in how someone structures their estate.
While there are many very valid reasons for people to want to limit the resources they leave behind for a spouse, as long as they remain married at the time of their death, there likely aren’t many ways to legally prevent their spouse from inheriting their assets.
Spouses have basic statutory rights of inheritance in Pennsylvania
You have the potential right to be as generous as you want with your spouse, but there is a limit to how much of your estate you can leave to other people. Generally speaking, if your spouse shared children with you, your spouse is likely entitled to at least the first $30,000 of your state and then half of the remaining estate, with the other half going to the children.
If your spouse isn’t the biological parent of your children, their share goes down to half of the estate. If you try to completely disinherit them, your spouse can claim an elective share that is a third of the estate.
Trusts and other creative estate planning tools could help you limit the size of your estate
If cognitive decline, gambling issues or other serious concerns have truly motivated you to consider limiting the resources that your spouse would have control over after you die, careful planning early can potentially give you more options. Diminishing the size of the estate is a common strategy.
Moving funds and assets into a trust and otherwise taking steps to diminish the value of your estate can potentially reduce the direct inheritance a spouse receives while still protecting other heirs. Not only does the use of a trust help you retain more control over the use of assets, but it can also help your spouse qualify for state benefits and avoid estate taxes.