Common Law Wife

My father lives in Washington, DC and is 88 years old and now lives with a female. The female has lived with my father for 5 years and my father is not getting any older. Does my father need to put something in his Will stating that the lady lives with him and gives her some type of funds so she wont contest his Will. Or can my father have some an addendum added onto the Will . What exactly is the time frame for common law marriage in Washington DC. We still don’t know if this lady is divorced or not and she acts clueless when asked.

Asked on May 22, 2017 under Estate Planning, Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

Washington D.C. is one of the double handful of jurisdications that recognize common law marriage in this country. To establish a common law marriage in D.C., you need cohabitation (living together) and that the couple holds themself out as (e.g. refers to themselves as) husband and wife. Cohabitating alone is not enough: there also has to be the expression that they consider themselves married. If they have not done that, they should not be common law married--but if the do refer to themselves as, essentially, married, they may be. As you can see, there may not be a hard and fast dividing line between common law married in D.C. and not--it depends on how the couple represents themselves.
Disinheriting a spouse in D.C. can be tricky--if your father suspects that the circumstances of his relationship would lead to common law marriage, he is strongly advised to consult with a trusts and estates attorney to make sure his will reflects his wishes.

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