Close this search box.

Death of Husband Ends Wife’s Right To Spousal Maintenance

Print Article

Walter and Geraldine Brown had filed for divorce before first Mr. Brown and then Mrs. Brown became incapacitated. When guardianship proceedings were initiated for both of them, the divorce proceeding was simply dismissed.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown lived in Indiana, where the language of guardianship is a little different from Arizona. What Arizonans would call a conservator is referred to as a “guardian of the estate” in Indiana. Two separate banks were appointed as guardians of Mr. and Mrs. Brown’s respective estates.

During the first months of the divorce action Mr. Brown had been ordered to pay spousal maintenance (better known as alimony) to his wife. After the dismissal of the divorce the bank handling Mrs. Brown’s estate asked the probate court to order the bank responsible for Mr. Brown’s estate to continue to make monthly payments. Mr. Brown was ordered to pay $1,600 per month to Mrs. Brown’s guardian.

Mr. Brown had been married before, and he had two sons from that marriage. Mrs. Brown had no children. Mr. Brown’s will left one-third of his personal property and a life estate in one-third of his real estate to his wife, and the balance of his estate to his two sons.

Mr. Brown died shortly after the spousal maintenance award was entered. His sons filed a probate proceeding, divided the estate in accordance with his will and began the process of closing the estate.

At that point Mrs. Brown’s guardian filed a claim against the estate for spousal maintenance that might be due for the rest of her life. After a hearing the probate court agreed and, considering Mrs. Brown’s life expectancy of 13.9 years, set the amount due from Mr. Brown’s estate at just over $160,000.

Mr. Brown’s sons appealed the judgment. Mrs. Brown’s guardian pointed out the Indiana statute (Arizona has a similar law) that allows child support payments to be reduced to a lump-sum claim against a deceased parent’s estate. In these circumstances, argued Mrs. Brown’s guardian, the court should make a similar calculation for spousal maintenance.

The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed. In reversing the award the Court noted that there is no statute authorizing such a calculation for surviving spouses, and that the state legislature presumably could have created such a claim if legislators thought it necessary. Mrs. Brown’s spousal maintenance award, however, ended with her husband’s death. Estate of Brown v. Estate of Brown, October 2, 2002.

Although Arizona uses “conservator” rather than “guardian of the estate,” the laws of the two states are similar in other respects. The same result should be expected in Arizona, especially where no divorce proceedings have been finalized.

Stay up to date

Subscribe to our Newsletter to get our takes on some of the situations families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities find themselves in. These posts help guide you in the decision making process and point out helpful tips and nuances to take advantage of. Enter your email below to have our entries sent directly to your inbox!

Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.