No Will? Part VII: What if I’m “Shacking Up?”

By June 21, 2016 No Comments

Richard BH on FlickrThis blog series explores the problems and complexities that may occur when someone dies without a Will. Prior posts discussed the process for appointing an estate Administrator, the authority that an Administrator may or may not have, whether the Administrator may be required by the court to furnish bond, and an overview of intestate succession. In my fifth and sixth blog posts, I discussed the details of intestate succession in terms of the distribution to a surviving spouse or registered domestic partner. This blog post will discuss what happens if you are living with your romantic partner, without marriage or registering as domestic partners, and you don’t have a Will.

As noted in my last two blog posts, in order to determine what a surviving spouse or registered domestic partner receives pursuant to intestate succession, proper identification of community property versus separate property is needed.  But what if, instead, you simply live with your girlfriend or boyfriend? What happens then?  The general rule is, nothing happens. Meaning, the relationship is not recognized for purposes of intestate succession.  So if Sally lived with her boyfriend David for five years, and then passed away without a Will, as a general rule, David would not receive an estate distribution from Sally – even if that’s not what Sally would have wanted.

But of course, few aspects of estate law are that straightforward. There’s an exception here, which is the concept of “committed intimate relationships.” According to the 1995 Washington Supreme Court decision of Connell v. Francisco, a committed intimate relationship (“CIR”) can be established by a court if demonstrated by factors including, but not limited to, “continuous cohabitation, duration of the relationship, purpose of the relationship, pooling of resources and services for joint projects, and the intent of the parties.” The Washington Supreme Court held that, if the court finds that a CIR exists, then the property accumulated during the relationship is presumed to be owned by both parties in a way that is similar to community property.

Using the example I provided above, if David can demonstrate to the court that his relationship with Sally is a CIR, then David would indeed have some rights to Sally’s estate, in a comparable way to the rights he would have as a surviving spouse.  However, often the process of proving a CIR existed is risky, arduous, and expensive.  And the nature of the relationship can be contested by other heirs, especially if they stand to inherit more by showing that the relationship did not rise to the level of a CIR.

The best solution is for couples who live together romantically to enter into a domestic partnership agreement governing the financial terms and conditions of their relationship, and to follow up that agreement with proper estate planning.

Read the next post in the series here.

Photo credit: Richard BH on Flickr

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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