It's one of the risks involved when you are dating someone, or living with them, and you aren't married: There are no protections in place if your partner dies unexpectedly.
This is what happened to Thomas Kinkade and his live-in girlfriend of 18 months, Amy Pinto-Walsh, at the time of his death. The difference here is that there are some disputed estate documents that purportedly give the house to his girlfriend instead of his estranged wife, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Now, the California court hearing the case has given the girlfriend the right to stay in Kinkade's house with an $11,000-per-month rent.
Kinkade's wife claims ownership over all of the furnishings and artwork in the house that existed before Pinto moved in, according to the Mercury News.
So how can you ensure that your unmarried partner receives what you want him or her to get in your will?
The issue with Kinkade's estate is that he wrote two holographic wills along with his typewritten will. A holographic will is not something that you would have seen on "Blade Runner"; it's just a will that is in your own handwriting.
Holographic wills are valid in California, but not in New York. This means if you want to make a quick change, you have to follow the formal steps of writing a codicil to a will or writing a new will altogether.
If you want to pass along your estate to a non-married partner, you must be sure that your will is properly written and signed. Otherwise, anyone who could have inherited from you, but didn't, can challenge your will during the probate process. This is what is currently happening to the "painter of light's" estate.
Other ways to make sure that a partner is included is to create a cohabitation agreement that transfers property prior to death. It is also possible to change beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and investment accounts to pay directly to your partner without the hassle of probate.
For real property, you can change your deed to ownership as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. This way the entire property will be transferred to your partner, again without having to go through probate. However, for these types of transfers, there may be taxation issues that you should consult with an estate planning attorney.
Since Thomas Kinkade did not have his estate in order at the time of his death, it is currently going through the probate wringer. Since Kinkade was still married, his wife has the right to her half of all community property. That means Pinto would only be able to get half of any assets which, at $60 million, isn't all that bad.
- What is Estate Planning? (FindLaw)
- Kinkade's Estate Battle to Remain Public (FindLaw's New York Estate Planning News)
- Disinheriting Your Spouse? Not So Easy in New York (FindLaw's New York Estate Planning News)