Estate litigation and common-law marriage: A recent case in Texas

Recently in Southeast Texas, a man filed a lawsuit over what he claims was unlawful interference in the estate of his late common-law wife.

According to an article from the Southeast Texas Record, the man had known his late common-law wife for around 15 years, starting as acquaintances and then moving towards friendship and a romantic relationship, with cohabitation beginning in 2014. He claims that they had planned a special ceremony for their common-law marriage, but her health deteriorated, and she passed away.

His lawsuit claims that his late common-law wife had intended to include him in her estate plan, but other possible beneficiaries raised objections. He claims that after her health worsened, several parties conspired to push him out of her life and take advantage of her when she was in a weakened state to have him effectively removed from her estate plans.

Common-law marriage challenges

Along with the DC and several other states, Texas recognizes common-law marriages; couples don’t need to obtain an official license to declare themselves married.

During estate planning, it’s critical to include your status as a common-law spouse and ensure that there’s proof the marriage exists. For example, both parties need to have agreed that they’re married; it can’t rest on one-sided perceptions of a relationship. The couple also needs to live with each other on a continuous basis (cohabitation) and present themselves as married to other people. Ideally they’ll have witnesses, such as neighbors and friends, who can attest to this, along with various pieces of documentation – such as a service they signed up for together as husband and wife.

However, without a marriage license and without sufficient proof of common-law marriage, individuals involved in a common-law marriage might need to deal with estate litigation. Other parties, particularly children from previous marriages, might battle the right of a common-law spouse to inherit from the estate.

To reduce the chances of estate litigation, be sure to contact an experienced estate attorney. If you make sure your estate documents state your intentions clearly and explicitly include your common-law marriage, you’ll have a better chance at avoiding a legal battle. And in the event that you’re already facing such a battle, you’ll need strong legal representation.