A couple from Redlands, California, recently made an interesting discovery about the marriage that they thought they had shared for nearly half a century. As the two were preparing their wills and collecting estate planning documents, they could not find their marriage license from their nuptials in 1964. After contacting the county for a copy, they realized that the pastor who conducted the wedding had never filed the license with the county office, meaning that the two had never actually been legally married.
Fortunately, the two had time to rectify the situation, which is now more of a humorous anecdote about two happily cohabitating, but oblivious, partners. But, had the couple not noticed and fixed the marriage recording mistake before their death, the result could have been nothing short of tragic.
Couples who find themselves in a similar situation but who do not resolve the problem may face multiple difficult issues. For example, if either individual dies without a will, it is very likely that the other partner would be left without any inheritance whatsoever. Because the probate system in California presumes people want to leave their possessions to family members, a spouse who was not legally recorded would likely be treated the same as a complete stranger, and the inheritance would have passed to other surviving family members.
People write wills because they care about their valued possessions and their loved ones. Only by avoiding probate can people ensure that their estate is distributed in the manner that they desire. Otherwise, the state presumes one's inheritance should be divided based on a one-size-fits-all formula.
Good estate planning takes thought and careful consideration, and it also means double checking and taking nothing for granted. An experienced estates and trusts attorney can help people make all the necessary preparations to keep people's estate documents current and legally valid in case of any unexpected contingencies.
Source: ca.news.yahoo.com, "Bob, Norma Clark discover after 48 years they're not legally married," Jordana Divon, Dec. 24, 2012