Does a Live-in Girlfriend Have Any Legal Rights to the Estate of a Deceased in Virginia?

by Robin Elizabeth Margolis

    A live-in girlfriend has no legal rights to the estate of a deceased man in Virginia unless (1) he has specifically left her part of his estate through a valid last will; (2) he has given her some of his property in his lifetime; or (3) the couple has entered a common-law marriage in a state or foreign country that recognizes common-law marriages and then moved to Virginia. Virginia laws do not acknowledge in-state common-law marriages.

    Common-Law Marriage

    A common law marriage occurs when a man and a woman do not desire a formal wedding ceremony, but want the benefits of marriage. Both partners entering a common-law marriage must be adults, not married to other people, live together continuously, agree they are married to each other, and tell people and government agencies they consider themselves to be married. If a couple has a valid common-law marriage and decide to split up, they must go to court and file for divorce in the same manner as couples who had formal marriage ceremonies.

    State Laws

    Only nine states currently allow common-law marriages: Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. The District of Columbia also accepts common-law marriages. The state statutes and court cases governing common-law marriages differ among the states. For example, New Hampshire recognizes common-law marriages only for inheritance purposes, while Utah requires common-law marriages to be validated by a court or administrative order. Four other states -- Ohio, Idaho, Georgia and Oklahoma -- stopped allowing common-law marriages in the 1990s. Pennsylvania ceased recognizing common-law marriages that occurred after January 1, 2005.

    Virginia Rulings

    A live-in girlfriend and her male partner who are Virginia residents are considered to be an unmarried couple. A live-in girlfriend is not entitled to a share of a Virginia man's estate that she would have received if he had married her in a formal ceremony in Virginia or any other state. She will only receive a wife's share of a Virginia man's estate if she can prove that she and her male partner entered a valid common-law marriage in another state or foreign country.

    Assisting Live-In Girlfriend

    A Virginia man who wants to leave part of his estate to his live-in girlfriend can create or update a will and other estate-planning documents to include specific bequests for her. He can also give her property during his lifetime through creating or updating deeds and other legal documents by including her name as a co-owner or specifically stating that the property passes to her after his death. If a man believes that he and his live-in girlfriend entered a valid common-law marriage in another state or a foreign country, he may wish to create or update a paper trail to prove the existence of a common law marriage. Virginia courts will accept a common-law marriage if it is proven by documentation.

    About the Author

    Robin Elizabeth Margolis is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. She has been writing about health care, science, nutrition, fitness and law since 1988, and served as the editor of a health law newsletter. Margolis holds a bachelor of arts degree in biology, a master's degree in counseling and a paralegal certificate.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images