If you are not married, recovering damages in a wrongful death lawsuit will be difficult, but not impossible. Yes, lack of a marriage license will give you plenty of headaches if you have lost a loved one and are trying to seek financial compensation, but with the help of a Los Angeles wrongful death attorney, anything is possible.
In California, spouses, registered domestic partners, children, as well as other close family members have a legal right to seek compensation for the death of their loved one when the death has been caused by someone else’s negligence, carelessness, recklessness or deliberate act.
But what about unmarried spouses? What happens if your fiancé/fiancée or person you are not legally married to dies? Will you be barred from filing a wrongful death claim to recover damages? That depends on the nature, length, and permanence of your relationship.
In this fast-paced world, couples in the United States are becoming increasingly reluctant to get married even though many of them share a home and combine their finances without actually getting married. In fact, some of these couples go on like this for many years or even decades. But does lack of a marriage license mean that these couples will not be able to file a wrongful death claim if either of them dies?
Our experienced wrongful death attorney in Los Angeles at JML Law explains that it is true that unmarried partners do not have the same rights in wrongful death cases as married spouses do. However, in no way does it mean that you will not be able to recover damages just because you did not tie the knot with your deceased partner.
Under California law, you have a legal right to seek compensation for the wrongful death of your loved one only if you are a legally recognized family member. More often than not, these include married spouses, registered domestic partners, and children.
However, other relatives may also have a right to seek financial compensation if they can demonstrate evidence that they were financially dependent on the deceased person. Generally, these close family members include stepchildren, parents and putative spouses (persons who believed in good faith that they were married when, in reality, their marriage was actually void or voidable).
But what can you do if you were an unmarried partner? After all, you do not have a marriage license nor is your marriage recognized by law. Our Los Angeles wrongful death attorney at JML Law explains that wrongful death claims can also be brought by the deceased person’s estate. In that case, any money in the settlement or jury verdict will be distributed among the family members and individuals named in the deceased’s will or any heirs as prescribed in California’s laws of intestate succession.
That’s one of the options for unmarried partners to seek compensation for wrongful death. If an unmarried partner is included in the will, they will have a right to recover damages for the death of their loved one even though they have never been married to that person.
However, that’s where it becomes tricky. Generally speaking, unmarried partners do not have a legal right to file a wrongful death action on their own, which is why they will have to work in coordination with the executor of the estate. In California, you have to file a wrongful death action within two years of the deceased’s death.
Another option for unmarried partners to sue after the wrongful death of their loved one is if they had a domestic partnership with the deceased. Under California law a domestic partnership must be properly registered in the statewide registry and meet certain criteria: the people in the domestic partnership must be either a same-sex couple who are over 18 (or have a court order granting permission for younger couples) or a heterosexual couple where at least one partner is at least 62 years old.
Do keep in mind that unmarried partners do not have a right to file a wrongful death action separate from other family members entitled to seek compensation. For that reason, all wrongful death claims must be joined in a single legal action or else it will be dismissed by a court.