Welcome to the second in a series of Probate Horror Stories, courtesy of Brown & Crona, LLC. Last month we discussed the impact of estranged parents on probate. This month we are tackling the issue of the legal rights of life partners when there is no documented will in existence.
Any time a person passes away without a will, the court apply the laws of intestacy to distribute the person’s assets and estate. In Colorado, the estate will generally be distributed to the surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings, depending on the person’s family situation.
Today, more and more people are choosing to forego the legality of marriage and elect to have life partners with whom they share property and assets. While this can be a satisfactory arrangement, there may be legal snags as time goes on. This is the situation of this particular Probate Horror Story.
Fictional Situation: Mary
- 44-year-old female
- Has lived with David for 15 years, considers him her life partner
- 3 estranged children
- Both parents have passed away
- No siblings
- Owns a vacation home in Breckenridge, Colorado
- Makes $65,000/year
- Has life insurance, investments, savings
- Home mortgage is in her name
- Owns a 2016 Subaru Outback
- No will
If Mary were to pass away without a will, her life partner will not receive any of Mary’s estate – even though they have been essentially living as a married couple for the past 15 years. Because they are not legally married, the courts will divide the estate (her home, vacation home, car, savings, etc.) among the surviving children – even though Mary hasn’t spoken to any of her children for over a decade. If David is unable to purchase the home in which he has built a life with Mary for 15 years from her children, he will not only lose the woman he loves but also the home he shared with her.
The only assets David may receive is life insurance money, assuming Mary has named him as her beneficiary.
The way to avoid or minimize this unfortunate situation is by both Mary and David creating wills that leave their estates to each other. While this may not completely avoid the risk of contests from the estranged children, they will have taken the right steps to protect their estates from falling into the wrong hands. They will be protecting each other.
A Denver estate planning attorney like the team we have at Brown & Crona, LLC (formerly The Brown Law Firm, LLC) can help you draft your will properly to ensure your life partner, man or woman, is protected. To learn more or to hire a Denver probate lawyer, please contact us at (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online.
Watch for our blog next month for the next installment of our Probate Horror Story Series.