The unfortunate deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade highlight the issue of estate planning when separated, but not yet divorced. In both of these tragic celebrity suicides, Kate and Bourdain had separated from their spouses. These cases reveal the complexities that can arise in such cases, when marital estate laws still apply, even though the couples weren't really together anymore as couples.
As far as the news media reports, both Spade and Bourdain had amicable relationships with their estranged spouses, and the decisions to permanently separate had been mutual. However, this does not make it any easier for the family law and estate law questions that will arise in the wake of their deaths.
In the case of inheritance rules, however, separated or estranged spouses will still be considered the closest family member and have primary inheritance rights. The surviving separated spouse will, for example, make the decisions for and manage the remains of the deceased. He or she will likely be entitled to the bulk of the deceased person's estate as well.
Perhaps, in both Bourdain's and Spade's cases, they intended for their amicably separated spouses to receive their estates like this. Maybe it was even a comfortable thought for them to know that this would happen during their final moments on earth.
We may never know for sure the answer to this line of inquiry, but what we do know is this: If you don't want your estranged spouse to be your primary heir, updating or redrafting your estate plan should be one of the first things you take care of.
Source: Forbes, "Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain And Estate Planning When You Are Separated," Megan Gorman, June 12, 2018