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The Moneyist: ‘His family didn’t care if he was dead or alive’: My fiancé died of a heart attack. His brother is executor and refuses to talk to me. Am I entitled to anything?

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Dear Moneyist,

My 72-year-old fiancé died unexpectedly of a heart attack while alone. I have known this guy for 12 years, and we were in an on and off relationship. We had been engaged for four years, but due to me working and him living 30 miles away, we never really lived together completely. 

I am a cancer survivor and have very limited energy, but I still work full time so we agreed that I would stay with him on weekends. Our arrangement worked but because of COVID-19, my weekend visits stopped as we wanted to protect one another. In the last five months, I saw him three times.

Then he died of heart attack alone. His estranged brother is his executor. His brother lives in another state. My fiancé would always assure me that he would take care of me. His brother refuses to tell me anything as he said that he does not know me. I do not know for sure if my fiancé left anything.

My fiancé’s house is cordoned off by the coroner. I do not have any personal belongings in his house because we once broke our engagement and, at that time, I made sure that I did not leave anything there. I hated hauling stuff if something went wrong.

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We had 12 years together, and we had many ups and down. My fiancé had a lot of medical issues, and I was there for him. I am the only person in his life. He had not talked to his brother and sister for 20 years. I understand why he made his brother his executor as he is a lawyer.

Would it be wrong for me to expect to get something from his estate? I feel like it’s not fair if he left me nothing, and the estranged brother and sister would get everything. He never saw his siblings, nephews or nieces.

How can I get a copy of a trust or will so I would know if I am there? His family didn’t care if he was dead or alive, and I was the one who was there for him. It makes me very furious thinking that left me nothing. Our relationship was far from ideal or perfect, but at least we loved each other.

He was so disappointed about this whole COVID thing. Do I have any right to anything from him?

Heartbroken in California

Dear Heartbroken,

There are four aspects to your letter: The logistical, the legal, the ethical, and the emotional. The latter two are more difficult to deal with than others. Firstly, I’m sorry to hear that your fiancé passed away under these circumstances. It’s difficult for people when loved ones are sick or die during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the restrictions on hospitals and funerals. It doesn’t make it easier.

Assuming your fiancé didn’t leave his will lying around the house and he actually had it notarized and left it in the possession of his lawyer who would then file it to the probate court in the county where your fiancé passed away. You should be able to locate it online, although you may have to pay to access it. If you can’t find it, call the court. If there is a will, it may not have been filed yet.

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You were not married and California does not recognize common-law marriage. But even so, you were not cohabiting and, although you had the intention of getting married, there does not seem to be any evidence (tax returns, letters, holiday cards, etc.) that suggest you regarded yourselves as a married couple. Most importantly, you did not live together, and you had no belongings there.

According to Berenji & Associates, a law firm in Beverly Hills and L.A., an implied agreement of marriage is tricky to enforce. A court would look at the following questions: “Why the couple never married. If the reason was to avoid the legal community property division requirements, it may indicate that no implied agreement existed. Whether the couple used joint credit cards.”

Other issues that might imply you saw yourselves as a de facto married couple include: “Whether the couple used joint or separate bank accounts to hold their individual earnings and assets. Whether one partner was the primary bill-payer or if both were separately responsible for their own expenses. Whether title to property was taken individually or together.”

The Moneyist: My partner has earned millions of dollars during our relationship. We’re not married, but am I entitled to anything if we split?

Your fiancé’s relationship with his family is none of your affair. They may have special memories as children, even if they drifted apart as adults. Speculating about how little they may or may not have cared for him is a spaghetti junction of emotions that has no beginning, and no end. You could be driving around that for years to come. It’s better to find the exit to your new life now.

His family are his legal heirs. It doesn’t feel right that they should inherit his estate, but if you were not included in his will (assuming there was a will) and, if your name is not on the deed of the house, you have little choice but to thank your fiancé for the good times you had together, and for the good times and even bad times that you can learn from, and take heart in the 12 years you had together.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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