Well it’s not a big deal if you have a will.
In Saginaw, Michigan a case arose that will define an aspect of estate law. The case has made it to the Michigan Supreme Court; arguments were heard last month on the matter. James Erwin Sr. and his wife, Maggie Erwin, were married in 1968 but did not live together from 1976 until James’s death in 2012. James did not have a will when he passed, therefore, James’ estate passes pursuant to Michigan Law under the rules of succession. Michigan law states that if a spouse is “willfully absent” for a year or more, then they are not entitled to inherit from the deceased spouse’s estate. Based upon the living arrangements of this married couple, James’ daughter alleged that Maggie should be barred from inheriting under the law forcing Maggie to defend her position.
The trial court determined that Maggie is a surviving spouse of James. The determination was made based on evidence that while Maggie did not physically live with James, she was not “willfully” absent from his life. As late as 2010, James and Maggie sued General Motors together and, in their complaint, stated that they are married, and that James found the life Maggie to be irreplaceable. The Court found this as an indication that there was still an emotional connection between them and that they still considered themselves to be very much married.
Following the trial court’s determination, James’ eldest daughter, Beatrice, from his first marriage, appealed the decision of the trial court. The case was heard in front of the State of Michigan Court of Appeals, where the trial courts decision was upheld. Now the case is being heard in front of the Michigan Supreme Court. This case could become the conclusive case defining the term “willfully absent”.
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The Probate Pro team is waiting to help you prepare for your future. We can assist you with drafting up wills, trusts, power of attorney documents and more! If James Erwin Sr. had prepared a will designating his wishes, then the case likely would have avoided court altogether, saving time and money. James also could have transferred ownership of his assets into a trust that clearly defined his wishes and beneficiaries, passing to them outside of probate court. There are many options when it comes to estate planning, we can explain the pros and cons of each option so that you can decide which is best for you.
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