Spousal Abandonment, Disinheritance

In Missouri, a spouse may forfeit spousal inheritance rights if he/she “abandons” his/her spouse. Section 474.140, RSMo provides:

“If any married person voluntarily leaves his or her spouse and goes away and continues with an adulterer or abandons his or her spouse without reasonable cause and continues to live separate and apart from his or her spouse for one whole year next preceding his or her death, or dwells with another in a state of adultery continuously, such spouse is forever barred from his or her inheritance rights, homestead allowance, exempt property or any statutory allowances from the estate of his or her spouse unless such spouse is voluntarily reconciled to him or her and resumes cohabitation with him or her.”

There are not many cases interpreting and applying this statute. This statute was intended to create “sound morality and public policy.” Jellech, 854 S.W.2d 828, 830 (Mo. Ct. App. 1993). Specifically, “a spouse cannot repudiate…all his marital obligations, and then take all benefits which remain after she dies.” Id. Misconduct which forces one spouse to leave can give rise to “constructive abandonment.”

“Abandonment,” in this context, generally requires a “showing of an intention on the part of the one charged with it to give up completely the relation of husband with no intention to resume it.” Estate of Heil v. Heil, 538 S.W.3d 382, 388 (Mo. Ct. App. 2018).

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