This November a voter ballot will be held in Minnesota to determine whether to pass a State Constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Amidst this backdrop, Thomas Proehl married James Morrison in 2008 in California. While living in Minnesota, Mr. Proehl died in 2011 without a will. The final judicial order can be found here.
In Minnesota, if there is no will or other estate planning devices, a spouse is normally first in line to take property. However in Minnesota, which has adopted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex marriages are not legally recognized.
The Case: Mr. Morrison “Wins” without a will
Hennepin County District Court Referee George Borer ruled that Minnesota’s DOMA law does not prohibit same-sex partners the right to inherit. So, Mr. Morrison “won” in the sense that he did finally get property rights.
However, he spent over a year muddled in the court system, wasting his time and money. His personal business was aired out publicly, whether he liked it or not. And perhaps most importantly, he had to go through all of this in an uncontested case. In other words, no one was opposing Mr. Morrison’s claim on the property and he still had to endure significant legal roadblocks.
The purpose of this piece isn’t to make any kind of statement one way or another regarding same-sex marriages. Instead, this is just another example of unexpected problems that can arise when individuals don’t make an adequate estate plan.
Whether it include a will, the proper trust instruments, a health care directive, a power of attorney, or any other transfer on death documents, a properly drafted estate plan is critical to help your successors avoid these kinds of transfer problems.
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