Regarding marriage, Washington state does not recognize common law. Instead, Washington State looks at a long-term, committed relationship as a meretricious relationship or cohabitation.
Being in a meretricious relationship versus being legally married can affect what happens to your property and assets should one of you become disabled or die.
What is a Meretricious relationship?
In the state of Washington, a meretricious relationship is where there is cohabitation in marital nature but not legally on paper. You might casually refer to this as “living together, but not married.” So, for example, you and your significant other have been in a relationship for the past 20 years where you live together, have joint bank accounts, and make joint decisions on all financial decisions, but you are not legally married then you can be considered to be in a meretricious relationship.
- Several factors that the court considers when determining if it is a meretricious relationship are:
- Length of the relationship
- Time of continuous cohabitation
- Nature of the relationship
- Extent to which the funds and assets have been co-mingled
- Intent of the parties in question
- Stability and commitment to your relationship
- Living as though married (have a family together, refer to each other as husband and wife, etc.)
Each case is looked at individually. A couple generally needs to live together continuously for a minimum of 2-3 years and present themselves as being in a committed relationship like a marriage.
Washington state recognizes same-sex relationships as a meretricious relationship.
Even though the state recognizes meretricious relationships in certain situations, it does not give the relationship the same rights as legal marriage.
How will this affect my estate plan?
If you are in a meretricious relationship, you want to make sure that you have an estate plan in place. Your assets will be divided according to the court as they see fit if you do not have specific wishes in your will, and you do not have a legal marriage in place.
Having a comprehensive estate plan ensures that the division and distributions of your assets are done the way you want them to be.
Things you can do:
Put it in Writing
Putting your wishes in writing in your will ensure your assets will be divided the way you want them to be. In some cases, such as a same-sex couple, your partner could be completely left out if the state you live in does not recognize same-sex marriage. In other instances, your house could be awarded to your children instead of your partner because it was not in your will.
Consider a Trust
A revocable living trust keeps your assets from having to go through probate. If you die the court will appoint a someone to manage your probate estate, and if they do not recognize your partner as speaking with the authority of a married partner, that could create ambiguity you want to avoid.
Cash, investment accounts, and real estate assets should be put into joint ownership so they can pass to the surviving owner. Also, if the couple has children together and only one person is the biological parent, the not-biological parent should adopt the child to get parental rights.
If you are in a meretricious relationship, you should contact a family law attorney. They can help you fill out all essential estate planning forms and help you make sure your assets are divided and distributed according to your wishes.
Contact Lilac City Law for help in setting up a living trust