July 23, 2019

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Can a Common-Law Spouse Sue for Wrongful Death in North Carolina?

If you have lost your common-law spouse to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, in North Carolina, you may be wondering if you have the same right to wrongful death compensation as you would if you had been formally married. The answer is “yes”, but only if you truly have a valid common-law marriage, and can prove it. If not, you need to know that North Carolina is particularly harsh on unmarried partners in cases of wrongful death. Even if you are named in the will, you cannot receive proceeds from a wrongful death claim.

Is Your Common-Law Marriage Valid?

Contrary to popular belief, living together for seven years or some other period of time does not make a common-law marriage. You cannot form a common-law marriage in North Carolina. In fact, there are very few states where a common-law marriage can be formed. But, all states will recognize a common-law marriage that was legally formed in a state that allows it. So, if you formed your common-law marriage in another state and according to the laws in that state, you have a valid and binding marriage.

However, you will have to prove it. That can be difficult and you may be up against those who stand to gain from the wrongful death claim if you are ruled out as a beneficiary.

Wrongful Death Beneficiaries in North Carolina

Wrongful death benefits are distributed to beneficiaries according to the state’s laws of intestate succession. Intestate succession is how a person’s estate is distributed among heirs when there is no will, but in cases of wrongful death proceeds it applies even if there is a will. Those who can receive wrongful death proceeds include:

  • Spouse
  • Children and their descendants
  • Parents
  • Siblings

Other potential beneficiaries may try to disprove your common-law marriage to increase their share. For example:

  • A surviving spouse shares the proceeds with children and descendants and if there are no children or descendants then with the parents of the deceased.
  • If there is no legal spouse, the children get everything.
  • If there is no spouse and there are no descendants, the parents of the deceased get everything.
  • Siblings only get a share if there is no spouse, no descendants and no parents. In such cases the siblings take all.

To learn more about common-law marriage and wrongful death claims in North Carolina, please contact an experienced North Carolina wrongful death attorney right away.

About Sandra Dalton

With a background as a paralegal, focusing on criminal defense and civil rights, Sandra Dalton launched her freelance writing career in 2000 with a weekly column on Freedom for Suite 101 and pro bono projects for individuals and organizations supporting causes close to her heart. One of her first projects was for the Police Compliant Center writing about police misconduct. Sandra’s legal writing quickly expanded to include personal injury, animal welfare, criminal defense, disability discrimination, family law and much more.

Sandra’s other writing around the web includes a broad range of topics such as food, pet health, feral cats, music and film. Sandra is also a fine art photographer, helps with animal rescue and TNR in her community, and volunteers as a DJ at her local radio station.