Macomb Woman Attempts Divorce from Her Grave
In a recent case originating from Macomb County, the Court of Appeals held that a woman scorned by her long-time, but absentee husband, could not effectively divorce him from her grave. In the case, the wife became ill and died of breast cancer after nearly three decades of marriage. Although the long-married couple was estranged at the time of wife’s death, they never filed for divorce or legal separation (known as separate maintenance in Michigan).
Because her husband had abandoned her during the 18-months she battled breast cancer, the wife executed a trust and will which left him nothing and appointed her sister as personal representative of her estate. When she died in 2002, the wife had spent years maintaining the “marital home” as well as a vacation property near West Branch. She paid all the property-related expenses without contribution from her husband.
Six-months after his wife’s death, the husband filed a petition in the Macomb Probate Court to set aside his deceased wife’s will and trust and to remove the cloud his wife placed on their properties. In the resulting court battle, the wife’s sister, relying almost extensively on out-of-state caselaw, asserted equitable contribution and abandonment theories, arguing that allowing husband to posthumously reap the benefits of his deceased spouse’s labors amounted to an unjust enrichment. The Court of Appeals was not persuaded, deciding that a married person cannot execute an estate plan that effectively acts as a “posthumous divorce”. The appellate court’s ruling keeps the sanctity of marital property intact and declined to “invent a claim” from which a decedent spouse can reach her surviving husband from her grave.
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