I recently read a series of posts about the title of this blog post. In all truth, I hadn’t really thought about it or had the issue come up. Here’s what happened.
A person died with an estate where the decedent left a handwritten Will. He has a “common law wife” of 30 years. They were married in New York state. The common law wife says they were married by a Rabbi in a traditional Jewish service but not in a civil service. Is she arguably his wife and a class A beneficiary or a mere class D beneficiary for purposes of New Jersey death tax?
The decedent’s Last Will leaves his “spouse” one-third of his estate with two-thirds going to their two children (class A beneficiaries). If the wife is a class D beneficiary, then the inheritance tax would be paid from her share of her estate. I am basing this on the estate tax apportionment statute and Hale v. Leeds, 28 N.J. 277 (1958).
If she’s a common law wife, she’s a wife. A common law marriage is a marriage just like a marriage with a ceremony. If they entered into a common law marriage in New Jersey before December 1, 1939, they were still married. N.J.S.A. § 37:1-10: http://law.justia.com/codes/new-jersey/2013/title-37/section-37-1-10. If they entered into a common law marriage in another state at a time when it was valid in that state and they moved to New Jersey, they were still married.
While New Jersey now requires a license in addition to a ceremony, if they were married in a ceremony in a state where a marriage with a ceremony but no license is valid, and they moved to New Jersey, they were still married. For example, in New York, a marriage with a ceremony but no license is valid.
Contact me personally today to discuss your New Jersey estate administration matter. I am easy to talk to, very approachable and can offer you practical, legal ways to handle your concerns. You can reach me toll free at (855) 376-5291 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County New Jersey Estate Administration and Probate Law Attorney