A recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Court of Appeals may spark some interesting conversations between unmarried couples about estate planning. The woman, who was not named in her long-time romantic partner’s will, has lost an appeal and as a result will not receive any assets from her partner’s estate. Even the existence of a cohabitation agreement between the two does not give her any legal leverage.
Penn Live’s article, “Woman who isn't named in lover's will can't get a penny from his estate, Pa. court says,” reports that the decision which leaves Galinac empty-handed came in an opinion issued by Judge Anne E. Lazarus.
The decision of the Court of Appeals upholds the ruling by a Westmoreland County judge who honored a request by Tito's four children to dismiss a claim Galinac filed against their father's estate.
Judge Lazarus’ ruling found that Tito and Galinac had been in a romantic relationship for 13 years when Tito died, but that only Tito's kids were named as beneficiaries in his will. The will provided nothing for Galinac, the judge noted.
Galinac claimed that Tito's children were keeping her from even retrieving her property from Tito's home. In reply, Ralph Tito's kids demanded that she give back thousands of dollars they claimed she withdrew from his checking account. The children also argued that a cohabitation agreement Galinac signed barred her from making claims against the estate.
On appeal, Galinac argued that the trial judge Lazarus erred in deciding she had waited too long to contest Tito's will. Judge Lazarus should have allowed her the opportunity to prove she and Tito were common-law spouses, Galinac argued. She also insisted that Tito's children misled her by telling her she was "merely (Tito's) girlfriend" and, as a result, had no legitimate claim to his estate.
Judge Lazarus found Galinac's arguments to be "illogical, irreconcilable and legally untenable," which sunk her chances of success in court. The judge noted that she claimed she had a common-law marriage on one hand, and yet on the other hand said she didn't know if she and Tito were legally wed.
The Judge explained that both parties needed to acknowledge that a common-law marriage existed, but that would have had to have occurred before January 1, 2005, since Pennsylvania no longer recognizes common-law marriages contracted after that date. Since there was no mutual agreement and the pair had never married, Galinac was not entitled to any portion of Tito’s estate.
The lesson here is straightforward: unmarried couples who wish to take care of their partners after one passes, need to meet with an estate planning attorney, at Cottrell and Jacobs, and have their wishes made clear in estate planning documents.
Reference: Penn Live (November 17, 2016) “Woman who isn't named in lover's will can't get a penny from his estate, Pa. court says”