Pittsburgh, PA asked in Estate Planning for Pennsylvania

Q: Is common law marriage still able to apply when a couple has been together for more than 30 years and one of them dies?

The "wife" died and house was in both names. Would common law marriage be able to apply in this circumstance when there is no will that everything would go to the "husband". My research on internet looks like yes it can as long as they were together before 2005. The lawyer the " husband" got first said yes common law can apply if before a certain date but then all of the sudden said no never mind. I am worried his lawyer is giving him false information because he is not an estate lawyer so he really doesn't know the information. They live in PA

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1 Lawyer Answer
Stephen M. Asbel
Stephen M. Asbel
  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: Pennsylvania law says: "No common-law marriage contracted after January 1, 2005, shall be valid." If the couple were together since before 2005, there MAY be a common law marriage. However, validity of a common law marriage requires more than just living together for a certain period of years. There must be a mutual, openly expressed agreement by the two individuals that they wish to be and are married. They must publicly hold themselves out as being married. When one of the individuals is deceased, evaluation of whether or not a common law marriage existed must look to various facts and circumstances of how they conducted themselves. Such factors can include, but are not necessarily limited to: Did they file taxes jointly as a married couple? Were they covered under the same health insurance plan as a married couple? Did they introduce themselves to others as being married? Did they financially run their household as a single unit - such as having joint bank accounts, shopping for food and supplies as a single household unit etc.?

The existence or non-existence of any one factor does not by itself determine whether or not there is a common law marriage but rather the totality of circumstances must be examined.

Such cases are very fact specific and judges long disliked having to make such determinations. The uncertainty surrounding common law marriage was an important factor in the decision to abolish them effective after January 1, 2005.

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