Courts and legislatures always have granted widows some protection from the economic hardships that their husbands' deaths cause. At the earliest common law, a surviving wife was entitled to dower in the form of a right to remain in her husband's home along with the other heirs after the husband's death. Today, the states have enacted a variety of statutory devices that provide protection for families who might otherwise experience financial hardship upon the death of a spouse or parent. The older types of statutory safeguards take the form of homestead and personal property exemptions. Typically, the probate homestead exemption attempts to protect the decedent's family by statutorily exempting a portion of the decedent's aggregate interest in real property used as a permanent residence from creditors of the estate.
This Article begins with an exploration and a critique of the homestead and personalty exemptions currently available in Kentucky. Particular attention is given to the limits of these family protection devices as mechanisms for effectively sheltering the decedent's family from adverse economic consequences caused by the decedent's death. This in-depth critique of Kentucky's family protection devices is followed by a proposed new method for protecting the decedent's family from financial hardship.