Collecting Unpaid Alimony When a Spouse Dies

By Heather Frances J.D.

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When you rely on alimony from an ex-spouse, it can be financially devastating when that individual dies. Typically, your alimony payments will end when your ex-spouse passes away; however, you may be able to recover unpaid alimony owed to you at the time of his death by making a claim against his estate.

Amounts Owed

Alimony may be ordered by a judge as part of a divorce decree, but it must be awarded in accordance with your state’s laws. Your ex-spouse’s requirement to pay alimony is usually terminated by state law when either of you dies unless your divorce decree states otherwise. However, if your ex-spouse owed you past due alimony when he died, you are still entitled to that amount.

Creditor Claim

When your ex-spouse dies, his estate will likely be taken through your state’s probate process. During probate, the court appoints an administrator for the decedent's estate. The administrator oversees the estate, pays outstanding debts and distributes the remaining assets to the decedent's beneficiaries. If your ex-spouse owed you past due alimony, you are a creditor of the estate. This means you can submit a claim against the estate for the unpaid alimony. The exact process for submitting a claim varies from one state to the next.

Lack of Administrator

If no one applies to the probate court to open your ex-spouse’s estate for probate, you may be able to apply to the court yourself. Many states allow a creditor or other interested party to open probate on a decedent’s estate after a certain amount of time. This ensures that you can make your claim to have your past due alimony paid from his assets.

Protection Plans

Because alimony does not usually continue after the paying spouse dies, you may wish to explore other options to ensure that your income doesn’t abruptly end if your ex-spouse passes away. Your state may allow you to purchase a life insurance policy on your ex-spouse with you listed as the beneficiary so that you'll receive money to compensate for the loss of alimony in the event your ex-spouse dies.