Spousal Abandonment, Probate Inheritance

Sometimes very unexpected developments can occur in probate litigation. This is largely because there are very unique probate laws in Missouri. For example, a spouse who “abandons” a deceased spouse waives any inheritance interest he or she may have in the deceased spouse’s estate.
Specifically, Section 474.140, RSMo provides that: 

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

“Abandonment” is not defined in the statute. Cases interpreting and applying this statute, though, have stated that abandonment can mean actual abandonment or contructive abandonment. In either circumstance, a party arguing abandonment must make a showing of an intention on the part of the one charged with it to give up completely the relation of husband and wife with no intention to resume it. In re Clark’s Estate, 213 S.W.2d 546, 650 (Mo. Ct. App. 1948).
Given the factual showing that needs to be made, this statute is rarely at issue in estate disputes. However, based on experience, it can come up when spouses are separated but not yet divorced. One of the spouse’s dies and some other heir or child argues abandonment, which, if proven, has the effect of increasing the heir’s inheritance. 
Contact with questions relating to probate disputes.

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