Estate planning can be complicated, and the process can be more challenging when a common law marriage is involved. In Colorado, common law marriages have specific legal implications for estate planning that must be considered. This blog post will discuss the intricacies of estate planning and how a common law marriage can complicate requirements.
What Is a Common Law Marriage?
A common law marriage, sometimes called an informal marriage, is not necessarily recognized by all states but has legitimate legal standing in some jurisdictions. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) explains, “A common law marriage is created when two people who are not married decide to live together as husband and wife and meet certain other requirements established by state laws.” In Colorado - as with most states - a common law marriage will only exist if certain conditions are present; specifically, both parties must intend to be married, hold themselves out to the public as married, and live together for a continuous period of time. If these criteria cannot be met, then the marriage is not legally recognized as common law in Colorado.
How is a Common Law Marriage Treated During Estate Planning?
If someone does have a valid common law marriage in Colorado - or any other state - then their status as spouses comes with significant legal implications. When it comes to estate planning situations involving couples who are joined by this type of union, the surviving spouse may have the right to inheritance even if their name isn't listed on their partner's will or trust agreement. This means that even if the deceased did attempt to exclude their spouse from inheriting any part of their estate through formal documents such as wills or trusts, said documents may not necessarily hold legal weight if it can be proven that a valid common-law marriage was indeed present at the time of death.
Typical Complications Common Law Couples Face When Creating an Estate Plan
When it comes to estate planning, common law couples can face several complications unique to their situation. Some of the most frequent issues include:
- Disagreements between partners regarding which assets or liabilities should be included in the plan
- Uncertainty about whether certain laws apply to common law marriages
- Difficulty proving the legitimacy of the marriage when seeking benefits from government programs or private insurers
- Inability to access spousal rights, such as certain inheritance cases, unless specific criteria are met
- Lack of legal rights regarding custody of children and other matters related to divorce proceedings
What Steps Should You Take?
The best way for individuals in Colorado who are part of a common law relationship to ensure that their estate plan accurately reflects their wishes upon death is to establish formal documents such as wills or trusts that explicitly outline what each party would like done with their assets after passing away. The same goes for life insurance policies, too; make sure you list your partner as a beneficiary so no confusion exists regarding who may collect payments upon your death, regardless of whether you two were formally married or otherwise joined under tradition or religious customs instead.
Contact the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC
Common law marriages can certainly complicate the estate planning process. However, by taking purposeful steps couples can avoid much of the headache and frustration. If you already have an agreement with your significant other, periodically check your wills and trusts to ensure they still meet your needs.
An estate planning attorney can help ensure your plan meets your needs by:
Ensuring formal documents outlining both party's desired outcomes are up to date
Identify and negate any potential issues now and into the future should anything happen either unexpectedly or within an expected timeframe (such as passing away).
It is important to take steps now while you can still actively control outcomes rather than leave crucial decisions up to chance later.
If you're looking for estate planning legal solutions for common law marriages in Colorado, the Law Office of Alexandra White, PC, is here to help. Call (303) 647-4245 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys and get started on crafting an estate plan tailored to your needs. Don't wait - contact us today to make sure your wishes are taken care of as soon as possible.