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New York judge: Property division done when spouse dies

A New York man has encountered what is likely his last legal roadblock in his mission to recover assets from his deceased wife. The man, who was in the process of divorcing the woman when she committed suicide, was seeking a property division judgment in connection with his spouse's life insurance and retirement accounts. She had removed him as a beneficiary from those accounts, instead leaving the money to the couple's 10- and 13-year-old daughters.

It is indeed an interesting question to consider: Can you continue a divorce after one party dies? Judges at the New York Supreme Court issued a resounding "no" in answer to that inquiry. Bolstered by generations of legal precedent, the judges have denied the man's petition to pursue his financial rights after his wife's death. She had removed him from the beneficiary lists two months before her death.

If the man had found out that she had removed him from the lists, he would have had the ability to force her to make changes according to the property division agreement. However, since he did not know that the changes had been made, he has no recourse at this time. This case illustrates the importance of not only knowing about all of your assets, but also ensuring that they are being properly managed throughout your property division proceedings.

The woman in this case, a veteran of both Afghanistan and Iraq, killed herself by consuming a lethal cocktail of drugs. The couple was in the midst of finalizing their divorce when she moved the money around. She was apparently suffering from serious post-traumatic stress disorder because of her experiences in the armed conflicts.

Source: New York Post, "Judge denies man’s divorce asset claim a year after wife’s suicide" Julia Marsh and Erin Calabrese, May. 26, 2014

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