When Legal Spouse May Not Be Appointed Personal Representative of Estate

When a person dies without a will, he passes on property and debts intestate and a personal representative is usually appointed to manage the decedent’s estate.

The personal representative occupies a key role in the settlement of the estate, exercising functions such as:

  • Gathering the assets of the estate;
  • Creating an inventory of the estate;
  • Notifying creditors of the opening of estate proceedings;
  • Paying bills that have been approved by the court, and
  • Distributing the estate to the heirs following the court’s order of distribution.

In Oklahoma family law, the decedent’s surviving spouse has the priority in requesting for an appointment as the estate’s personal representative. But who should be appointed when the decedent is survived by a common-law wife and a legal wife, albeit separated in fact for several years before the death of the decedent?

Estoppel as Obstacle for Legal Wife

In a recent case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the legal wife is estopped from asserting her status as the surviving spouse due to specific conduct such as entering into a subsequent marriage after the couple’s separation.

The facts of this case showed that the decedent was previously married to a woman who later left him allegedly due to his extramarital affairs. The couple separated but neither of them filed for divorce. The decedent later met and started a live-in relationship with a second woman with whom he had two children and who he treated as his common-law wife. Both lived together for many years until the decedent’s death in 2013.

When the legal wife learned of the common-law wife’s appointment as the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, the former asked the court to revoke the common-law wife’s appointment stating that the former’s marriage was never dissolved despite the separation.

During the proceedings, it was established that the legal wife not only separated from the decedent for many years but also that she married another man and signed her name using the second husband’s surname. The court considered the later marriage after the petitioner’s separation as a denial of her prior marriage under the legal principle of estoppel. If a loved one has recently passed, the period immediately following your loss can be an emotional time. Having an experienced estate attorney to guide you can ease the stress that can come with estate proceedings.

In Oklahoma, the family law attorneys at Rick Dane Moore & Associates, PLLC have over 30 years of experience, working with estates and helping heirs settle through estate procedures. Call us today at (405) 703-6552 to arrange for your free 15-minute telephone consultation.