Death During A Divorce Case: What Happens

When a divorce summons is filed and then served in NY, there are automatic orders that state that neither party may make changes to the beneficiaries of their estate or life insurance without consent of the other spouse or without a court order so long as the divorce case is pending.

When a spouse dies during an unresolved divorce case, prior to the court "granting" a divorce, the case is "abated" which means it has ended. The general exceptions are that if the spouses have already signed a stipulation of settlement, their "contract" will be binding upon the estate of the deceased spouse. If a case has proceeded to trial and the judge has accepted the grounds for divorce and stated that a judgment of divorce will be granted, even if the court or spouses have not resolved all of their issues the right to equitable distribution is deemed vested by the "granting of the divorce" and so the estate can be substituted for the deceased spouse.

If a case has been settled or tried to conclusion and the judge dies before he signs the divorce decree, the case continues and the court can select a new judge to sign the judgment performing a "ministerial act".

If the spouse dies and the divorce has not been granted nor has the case been resolved, then the laws concerning estates, wills and spouses will be applied dependent upon the circumstances.

While these situations rarely occur when they do, for obvious reasons, everything is turned upside down and inside out. It is important to make sure that you receive prompt and accurate legal advice to protect your rights or the rights of the estate. If you find yourself in such a situation, please call my office so that we can guide you through this difficult and unusual process.