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What happens to the estate when your unmarried partner dies?

| Sep 4, 2020 | Estate And Probate Litigation |

For many people in relationships, getting married is not a priority. Some couples do not believe they need to get married to prove their love and commitment to each other. For others, a bad prior experience with marriage has soured them on the institution. Whatever their reasons, in their day-to-day lives, whether a couple in a long-term relationship is married or not makes almost no difference.

But there are times when it does matter if you and your partner are married. One of the most important examples is when one member of a couple living in Snohomish County passes away.

What does it matter if we were married or not?

When someone dies without a valid will, under Washington law, they are said to have died intestate. This means that Washington’s law of intestate succession determines who will inherit the deceased person’s assets. If the deceased was legally married, under the law, their spouse would receive all the community property. If the deceased was survived by a spouse and children, the spouse and children split the separate property 50/50.

However, when a person dies without a spouse or state registered domestic partner, the estate will go to the deceased’s surviving children, if any. If the deceased did not leave behind any children, the assets will go to their surviving parents or other relatives. In other words, no matter how long you and your partner have been together, the law does not recognize your relationship when it comes to intestate succession.

What about common law marriage?

A common law marriage is one that a couple establishes by living together for many years while intentionally presenting yourselves to family and friends as a married couple. While most states used to recognize common law marriages, today only ten states and the District of Columbia still do. Washington State does not recognize common law marriages. Thus, you cannot use the concept of common law marriage to argue that you are entitled to all or part of your partner’s estate.

Make sure the person you love gets the inheritance they deserve

If you and your partner do not plan to marry, it is critical that both of you set up estate plans that leave each other the portions of your assets that you see fit. The best way to do this is to enlist the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.