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My Husband's Whole Estate Went to His Kids



"My second husband and I were married 26 years when he passed away. He left everything “payable on death” to his kids. Can I bill his estate for 24/7 caregiving I provided him while he was bedridden? He needed to be spoon fed, was in diapers, etc. I can’t pay his leftover hospital and ambulance bills since his kids got all the cash. We live in a “Community Property State” so I can only get half the house, but the kids are selling it to get their half and, hopefully, pay the cremation bill. What am I allowed to do here?"



"My sympathy for your loss. You’re at a very vulnerable time right now after the passing of your spouse and need sound legal advice. Based on your question and what you have relayed, I recommend you contact an estate lawyer. Bring with you the will, prenuptial agreement and/or similar legal documents that might support your requests.   

From your question, it appears you have already handed all the cash over to your spouse’s children. If that is true, a lawyer can assist you. The bills your spouse incurred should be paid before cash is distributed. The estate’s bills need to be paid from the assets available. While it’s true that in a joint property state, you may be liable for some of your deceased spouses’ obligations, if he left cash, his debts are to be paid from his assets. 

Contact the executor of your husband’s estate. The executor is expected to pay your husband’s debts before any cash is distributed to beneficiaries. Executors should know this.

Now, how do you go about billing the estate for the care you provided while your husband was living? I am not aware of any right you have to bill your deceased husband’s estate for care you willingly provided in the past without compensation. The only way that would be possible is if you had a contract to provide services, signed by your deceased spouse, therefore obligating his estate to pay you. Based on how you asked the question, I suspect that such a written agreement does not exist.   

I do understand how you might feel at this time. It appears that you provided extensive, round-the-clock care for a period. Now his children are receiving a substantial portion of the assets and you’re not being rewarded for your contribution to his wellbeing in his final days. This situation doesn’t feel fair and may not be, but it’s doubtful you have any recourse after the fact. You can ask the children for compensation, but without a binding agreement they’re under no obligation to give it. 

I strongly recommend you seek out an estate attorney immediately with your questions. Your specific situation needs addressing right away, and before assets are distributed. If you believe you are of low income, contact the Legal Aid Society in your state. Many lawyers will take an initial query without a charge if you’re brief and to the point with your questions. Do get the legal advice you need."