Surviving Spouse Status for Unmarried Partners – Washington Probate Law

Washington does not recognize common law marriages. In 1989, the Washington Supreme Court held that a surviving “meretricious” partner (of a 22 year relationship) was not entitled to intestate succession (distribution of an estate where decedent died without a Will) as a surviving spouse. Peffley-Warner v. Bowen, 113 Wn.2d 243 (Wash. 1989).
The specific issue before the Court was whether a surviving spouse status as a wife with respect to intestate devolution (distribution) of the decedent’s personal property (non-real estate). The petitioner applied to the probate court for and obtained an order imposing a lien on the real estate, which was in recognition of her contribution to the relationship.

On the question of intestate succession of a surviving meretricious spouse, the Court held that petitioner was not decedent’s spouse, and therefore was not entitled to the status as a widow with respect to intestate distributions of decedent’s personal property.

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