Does California Recognize Common Law Marriage and What Are My Rights?

I often meet with couples who assume that because they’ve lived together for a certain number of years, they will automatically receive their partner’s assets or other inheritance should one of them unexpectedly pass away.

Unfortunately, this is not the case, as California does not recognize common law relationships as some other states do.   So for someone in a non-traditional relationship living in CA, that means they could not make a claim to their partner’s assets if they pass away, or make important financial or medical decisions for their partner if he or she is incapacitated but does not die in an accident.

This is a scary situation to be in, especially if you’ve spent years believing you or your children would be taken care of if your “common law” husband or wife was suddenly killed or injured.

So what can you do to protect yourself legally and financially if tying the knot isn’t in the forecast?

At a bare minimum, you should have a will clearly expressing what each partner is entitled to should the other pass away.   Additionally, you’ll want to check the designations of real property, personal property, life insurance benefits and other assets.

The next, and arguably the most important thing you should have are medical directives and power of attorney forms.  It’s important to understand that because you are not “legally” married in the eyes of the law, you will not be permitted to make financial or life-saving decisions for your partner if they are temporarily –or even permanently incapacitated.   Without such forms you could be locked out of bank accounts, unable to manage your bills or left as a helpless bystander if your loved one requires important medical decisions to be made on his or her behalf.

Yet fortunately, all of these documents ( a will, medical directive and power of attorney) are relatively simple to draw up with the help of an experienced attorney.  I can also say that having them done is well worth the initial investment should the unthinkable happen.

So if you’re currently in what you believe to be a common law relationship or living together and you now need help getting your legal and financial life in order so you are protected should death or incapacity suddenly occur, give us a call at (949) 260-1400.   If you mention this article, we’ll waive the $750 fee for our Family Wealth Planning Session and walk you through the steps you must take to protect your family free of charge.  However, these appointments are limited to 10 per month so call today!

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