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Can a court mandate support after a parent’s death?

Can a court mandate support after a parent’s death?

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As a divorced parent, you may have had to deal with court dates to compel support payments from your former spouse or modify an existing order. But some parents find themselves in a more frightening scenario. An ex-spouse who had been paying support has suddenly died.

The death of a paying parent may appear to signal the end of any more support payments. However, a prior court case in the state of Massachusetts demonstrates that a surviving parent may still have an option to pursue further support.

Parental death does not end obligation

In the year 2000, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in L.W.K. v. E.R.C. that a parent’s obligation to pay support did not end just because the parent had died. The court ruled that an existing court order to pay support remained active until the child receiving support became emancipated or the court made a ruling regarding the child’s status.

In the 2000 case, the paying parent had specifically disinherited the child in his will. However, the court refused to allow this provision to stand. Instead, the court modified the existing court order so that the parent’s estate would provide support.

How an estate may pay support

When a person dies, he or she typically leaves behind assets. These make up a person’s estate. Through a will, you can leave your children an inheritance from your estate. However, your estate has to satisfy certain obligations like unpaid taxes before paying out an inheritance.

In the L.W.K. v. E.R.C. case, the Supreme Judicial Court decided that a child support obligation was like a preferred creditor’s claim that required satisfaction before the estate could disperse its assets. The court ruled that the child could receive support from the parent’s Social Security death benefits. This case provides an important precedent that may apply to other parents in a similar situation.