Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples
In summarizing a decision of a case to assert the rights of a surviving unmarried partner, a Riverside Probate Court Judge began by referring to Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason series. He started the title of all his books with “The Case of the …….” The Judge said he would call the case before him “The Case of the Great Procrastinator.”
During trial for this case, Riverside estate planning attorney, Dennis M. Sandoval, called numerous witnesses on behalf of his unmarried client to testify that her long–term boyfriend had promised on numerous occasions to marry her. The witnesses testified that the deceased partner wanted his partner to receive his pension and other property. Unfortunately, the deceased partner never finalized his divorce, never named his partner as beneficiary of his retirement plans, never added her to title of his assets and never completed an estate plan.
Despite the testimony that the deceased partner wanted to benefit his surviving partner at death, the Judge held that she would receive nothing from her boyfriend’s intestate estate and his children and ex-wife, all of whom he did not have a good relationship with, would receive it all. How could this happen?
Like gay and lesbian couples, unmarried couples of the opposite sex are considered legal strangers under the law. California law does not recognize the concept of “common law marriage,” which is recognized in a minority of states. While the famous case Marvin v. Marvin, involving actors Lee Marvin and Michelle Triola Marvin, resulted in the possibility of an unmarried partner asserting an express or implied contract claim against the other partner based on promises made during the relationship, the existence of such contract and what was actually promised is not always easy to prove – as illustrated by my client’s case.
For more on these planning strategies, visit our “Estate Planning for the LGBT Community” portion of our website to learn more about the hurdles unmarried and LGBT partners must overcome in order to provide for one another, as well as to learn more about owning property as joint tenants, beneficiary designations and POD bank accounts, advance health care directives, HIPAA authorization forms, durable powers of attorney for property, Wills, trusts, and California’s registered domestic partnership laws.