A Cautionary Tale: Unmarried Spouse Ends Up with Nothing

This is a story with which many will be familiar. We likely know a friend, colleague or family member who has gone through just this kind of tragic situation.

  • It starts with two mature people, Jack and Stella, who meet, fall in love and begin a committed relationship that lasts more than 20 years.
  • Jack has significantly more assets than Stella.
  • Jack and Stella never legally marry, yet they live together, and for all intents and purposes act and live as husband and wife for a large part of their adult lives.

Jack comes from significant family wealth . . .

Jack’s mother, who has never approved of his girlfriends, does not want her son to marry. After all this time, Stella has never developed a relationship with Jack’s mother, and Jack has led her to believe it is because she thinks all women are after his money.

Stella is well-educated, teaches music at the local high school and has no family money. Despite Jack’s wealth, she wants to maintain her independence in the relationship and insists they split everything fifty/fifty. She quickly becomes accustomed to Jack’s expensive tastes, yet she finds herself splitting the cost of lavish trips and expensive meals that she really can’t afford.

Twenty years later, Jack falls in love with Karen

After more than 20 years, Jack finds himself falling in love with Karen, a new colleague, and leaves Stella. More specifically, he tells Stella about Karen, and Stella moves out of the home they have shared for two decades.

Stella, now in her 60s, must endure the pain and loss of what feels like a Divorce, but because they never created any legal documents defining their relationship—they never married, created a Domestic Partnership or a Living Trust naming Stella as the beneficiary of any of Jack’s assets–she is entitled to nothing–no spousal support, none of the income Jack earned during their relationship, no property. Stella has to find an apartment and start over.

This cautionary tale makes a strong argument in favor of marriage or a Domestic Partnership

Jack’s and Stella’s relationship consisted of 20-plus years of long-term dating. Had they married or created a Domestic Partnership, under California Probate law, Stella would be entitled to community property, assets and a portion of Jack’s separate property assets. If Jack had died, the results would have been the same. Pain and heartbreak for Stella, but nothing in the way of property or assets.

While marriage isn’t necessary, to be protected in the event of death or a breakup, a couple needs to register as Domestic Partners and/or create a Will or Living Trust identifying those assets that the partners will inherit. Creating these legal documents is particularly important when two people come from different economic levels.

A New Year is a very good time to update your Living Trust to reflect on important changes in your life

Contact California Document Preparers at one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment. We’re helpful, compassionate and affordable.