Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a husband’s separation from his wife and subsequent extramarital affairs deprived him of his right to an intestate share of the deceased spouse’s estate. Estate of Kathleen Talerico, __ A.3d __ (No. 728 MDA 2015, filed March 18, 2016).

Kathleen and Donald Talerico were married in 2006. The couple resided in Scranton, Pennsylvania in a home solely owned by Kathleen. They separated in 2010.  Divorce proceedings were commenced in 2011, but the divorce was not finalized before Kathleen’s death in 2014.

Between 2011 and 2014, both Kathleen and Donald engaged in multiple extramarital affairs. However, despite the separation, the filing for divorce and the subsequent affairs, Kathleen and Donald maintained a friendship and he helped and supported her financially and emotionally at all times after their separation.

Kathleen died intestate. After Kathleen died, Donald petitioned for letters of administration, which were granted. Kathleen’s sister then filed a notice of claim against the estate.  Donald filed to dismiss the sister’s claim on the basis that, since he and Kathleen were married at the time of her death, he was entitled to the intestate share of Kathleen’s estate. In contrast, the sister maintained that Donald’s extramarital affairs constituted a forfeiture of any right he had to an intestate share of the Kathleen’s estate. The orphans’ court denied Donald’s motion to dismiss, holding that Donald forfeited his intestate share by virtue of his post-separation conduct. Donald filed an appeal.

In a unanimous opinion, the Superior Court affirmed. The court held that Donald forfeited his spousal interest in Kathleen’s estate under Section 2106(a) of the state’s Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code, which states that a spouse who has “willfully and maliciously deserted” his or her decedent spouse shall have no right or interest in the estate. 20 Pa. C.S. §2106(a). The Court found that Donald’s extramarital affairs gave rise to an inference of willful and malicious desertion that Donald failed to rebut. The Court noted that the “decision stands as an acknowledgment that the separation of spouses, although not finalized by divorce, should be given effect even following the death of a spouse.”

The case is annexed here – Estate of Kathleen Talerico

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