Robert F. Kennedy's estranged wife, Mary Kennedy, was found dead in her New York home on May 16.
Details of her death are still unavailable, although news reports call it a "possible unattended death."
Mary Kennedy was currently in the process of a divorce from her husband.
While information and details on her will are currently unknown, the question arises as to what happens to the estate of a deceased person when they are not yet divorced.
The couple had four children: Conor, Kyra, William and Aiden. Two of the Kennedy's children are still minors.
When couples divorce, it's still possible for the surviving spouse to inherit if the divorce isn't final. In fact, when going through a divorce, it becomes very important to update one's estate plan in case the unexpected happens.
If one spouse passes away during the course of a divorce, matters could be complicated. For starters, the surviving spouse might still have rights, under the old estate plan, to make funeral and burial decisions.
If there is no will, the surviving spouse could inherit outright, under the laws of intestacy.
And even if there is a will, in New York, the surviving spouse has a right to receive his or her elective share of the dead spouse's estate.
The problem with divorce proceedings is that a couple's financials are a crucial part of the mix. The same goes for a probate hearing in Surrogate's Court. One complication is that once a divorce is filed, there may be a restraining order against either spouse making modifications to their financial planning documents.
As a result, some advisors say that it's wise to make any such amendments prior to filing for divorce.
In any event, parties contemplating divorce need to make sure that their estate plans are amended accordingly.
Update, May 17, 2012: Reuters now reports the cause of death as asphyxiation due to hanging. Toxicology reports are still pending.Related Resources:
- New York Estate Planning Lawyers (FindLaw)
- Disinheriting a Spouse? Try Not to Die Before the Divorce is Final (New York Estate Planning News)
- Estate Planning (FindLaw)