Contributor: Jesse Maier
Often our law firm will get calls from individuals living in Arizona, California, Texas (places that are generally more pleasant to live in than North Dakota), and they will call and ask whether their long-time girlfriend/boyfriend will automatically be entitled to their property upon death. The answer to this depends largely on where a person resides. Enter the fascinating and complicated world of common law marriage.
What Is Common Law Marriage?
In its most basic terms, common law marriage is where a couple is considered legally married without any actual marital process or formal registration. The idea behind common law marriage is that the couple essentially considers themselves married and generally will be required to prove that the couple has held themselves out to the public as married.
Why Does Common Law Marriage Matter?
Every state has certain rules about what your spouse is entitled to when you die. These rules provide that even if you do not have a will or if you do not include your spouse in your will, the spouse will be entitled to some (usually) percentage of the estate. So if your state recognizes common law marriage, and you are common law married, then your “spouse” will qualify for this automatic spousal inheritance treatment.
Does My State Recognize Common Law Marriage?
Currently, neither Minnesota nor North Dakota recognizes common law marriage. However, there are still several states that will recognize common law marriage for various purposes.
Why Does This Matter If I Live In No-Common Law Marriage State?
If you live in North Dakota or Minnesota and you are dating someone, you need to get an estate plan. If it would be your intention to leave assets to your longtime girlfriend/boyfriend, you need to explicitly include them in your will or list them as beneficiaries, where applicable. If you die and you have not adequately prepared, your girlfriend/boyfriend will receive nothing.
If you want to provide for your girlfriend/boyfriend in the event of your death or have any questions regarding estate planning, give us a call at 701-297-2890 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is only meant to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice.