This experience was too heartbreaking not to share.
This is for anyone out there who still hasn’t planned their estate (and maybe those of you who need updates).
I recently met with a potential client. Let’s call her Nadia. Nadia had been in a long-term relationship with Steven in the State of New Mexico. They had been together for twenty-four years (about a quarter century), but they never got married. The fact that they were not married didn’t bother them. After all, it wasn’t necessary for the government to recognize their relationship; they knew they would be together forever.
Unfortunately, forever ended up being a lot shorter than they had anticipated. You see, Steven had health problems that had previously not been diagnosed, and, when the doctors caught the issues, it was far too late. Suddenly, Nadia found herself a young woman having to contemplate the reality of dealing with the loss of the most important person in her life, and everything else that comes with it.
Steven, during his life, was a rather carefree person. He often put off things that he should have done right away. Unfortunately for Nadia, one of those things he forgot to do was list Nadia as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy and retirement account. He had done the paperwork at some point, but it had never actually been filed with the financial institutions. This left Steven’s life insurance policy and retirement account in a very awkward situation, having no named beneficiaries whatsoever for either policy.
Nadia had come to me because she wanted to know what she needed to do to make sure that Steven’s estate was handled properly, and so that I could help her inherit Steven’s estate.
And that is where this story becomes truly heartbreaking. You see, New Mexico does not recognize common law marriage. No matter how long a couple is together in New Mexico, the law views them as strangers, for purposes of inheritance and probate. Unless the couple gets married, they are unable to benefit from the inheritance rights and priorities granted to spouses automatically under the probate code.
Yes, you read that correctly. Strangers. A couple who had been together for a quarter of a century, who had promised to take care of the other as long as they both shall live. Strangers.
And because of those laws, despite all the tears and heartache she had already suffered, I had to inform Nadia that she isn’t entitled to inherit Steven’s life insurance money, she isn’t entitled to inherit Steven’s retirement account, and, worse still, she does not even have priority to serve as personal representative of Steven’s estate. She can’t even take ownership of Steven’s car, because it was titled in only his name.
It wasn’t all that long ago that stories such as this were all too common to hear (especially in the LGBTQ community). But, I was shocked, saddened, and, perhaps, a little bit angry that things like this can still happen.
What makes it worse still is that it all could have been prevented.
And I’m not talking about marriage. Though getting married would have prevented a great deal of pain and suffering for Nadia, it wasn’t the only option.
Had Steven planned, had Steven written a Will, had he named Nadia as beneficiary on his financial accounts, the couple could have taken the decisions out of the hands of the lawmakers who set the stage for situations like this.
But, hindsight is 20/20, and after-the-fact is too late.
It’s too late for Nadia and Steven, but it isn’t too late for you.
Approximately sixty percent of American's don't have any type of estate plan in place. Don't be one of them.