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What is a Widower?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A widower is a man whose wife has passed away, just as a widow is a woman who has lost her husband. Most people are not widows or widowers if they were divorced at their ex-spouse's time of death. There still may be some legal rights for a former spouse, particularly when it comes to receiving retirement benefits and if the surviving divorced spouse doesn’t remarry.

There are a number of reasons to understand the term widower from a legal and taxation standpoint. In regard to taxes, the surviving member of a couple, particularly who has children, may be able to file taxes claiming different statuses like “head of household” which helps to reduce the amount by which a person is taxed. This is variable by region, and those who have suffered the loss of a spouse should see if specific tax rules apply.

From a legal standpoint, the term widower could be important if the surviving spouse believes a spouse’s death resulted from the negligent or reckless actions of someone else and decides to sue for damages. The right to sue may be based on degree of relationship to a person. A divorced spouse, unless suing on behalf of the deceased’s children or child, may not have as much of a case to sue for damages. However, a widower is directly affected by that person’s loss and could have a very strong case if reckless or negligent behavior can be proved.

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Another way in which the legal community uses the term widower occurs when amount of inheritance from a deceased spouse is decided. This varies depending on the region a person lives in, but a widower or widow may be completely entitled to inherit all property by virtue of having been married to the deceased spouse at the time of death. Since many people have a variety of family configurations, people may need to write very specific wills that prevent this from occurring.

For instance, many people have children from a previous marriage and remarry. In some areas, the new marriage would be the only factor considered when property is distributed after one of the spouses’ deaths. A widower might inherit everything from his late wife, leaving her children with no form of inheritance. What can follow are ugly lawsuits if all people feeling entitled to some of the property can’t agree on a fair distribution of it.

Those who have complex family arrangements need to be very wise when contemplating remarriage, and determine what regional laws would apply to property inheritance for a widow or widower. Writing wills that reflect the intent of each spouse, long before the issue is ever encountered, are vital to promoting family harmony during the grieving process accompanying a death. Most people seek the advice of attorneys to make certain that the surviving spouse gets a fair but not unreasonable inheritance.

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