Q: When my same sex partner of 22 years died in Florida last year, I had been her caretaker for the past 10 years. How in the world can Florida Probate Courts take 22 years of my financial contribution to my same sex relationship and set it aside for my partner’s blood relatives who I have neither met nor know? My partner had been suffering from Huntington’s disease for the past 12 years before her death. During these difficult times of illness, I was her sole caretaker and the family breadwinner. I paid the mortgage, all of her medical care and the majority of the family bills. Upon her death, I filed probate only to learn that because my partner and I failed to get married, I had neither entitlement to our family assets nor credit for contributions I had made during our many years together except for assets jointly-owned. Although I had durable power of attorney to manage her finances and healthcare, our house was personally-owned by my partner as were her bank accounts, investment accounts and insurance accounts, and with no specified beneficiaries.
Also, I learned that neither of our two children had entitlement to any of the inheritance because both were adopted by me prior to entering into our relationship. So, even though we spent 22 years as a family, all of my partner’s assets belong to her blood relatives and our children and I lose everything that we had built and contributed for over 2 decades. This seems egregiously unfair in today’s world that, beyond any doubt, accepts same sex marriages nationwide. Even though my partner and I lived as a common law family, I learned that Florida does not recognize common law marriages.
A: To answer your question, there are exceptions to the rule, for example, if you had lived in one of the seven states in the US that do recognize common law marriage, and can prove your relationship set forth by those state’s statutes in which you first lived, then the Florida Probate Court could have considered your marriage valid and your partner’s assets could have become yours and your children’s. Although such proof is difficult, you would have had a greater chance of success in court like any other blood relative would have had in those states that do recognize common law marriage.
You have experienced the law known as “Laughing Heirs Inheritance,” meaning an heir who is legally entitled to inherit the property of a person who has died, even though such heirs are only distantly related to the deceased and have no personal connection or reason to feel bereaved over their death.Your experience is commonplace. To avoid losing assets, you and your partner spent a lifetime acquiring and which you would otherwise be entitled, same sex partners, or those living common law marriage lifestyles in Florida with no intention to marry, should consult with an Estate Planning Attorney to discuss how to responsibly plan and protect family inheritance