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In re Estate of Wires - 765 P.2d 618 (Colo. App. 1988)

Rule:

A common law marriage is established by the mutual consent or agreement of the parties to be husband and wife, followed by a mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship. The determination of whether a common law marriage exists turns on issues of fact and credibility, which are properly within the province of the finder of fact.

Facts:

Respondent, Alfred Medina, and the decedent lived together for approximately seven years. It was established that respondent and the decedent discussed getting married; however, the decedent decided not to marry after learning that her Social Security benefits would be discontinued if she married. The decedent left a certain amount of money, which the respondent withdrew from the decedent’s bank accounts after her death. According to the respondent, he used the money to pay debts that the decedent’s estate was obligated to pay. The trial court issued orders which: (i) determined that respondent was not the decedent’s common law spouse; and (ii) directed respondent to reimburse the estate for the amount he withdrew from decedent’s bank account after her death. Respondent challenged the trial court’s orders.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in: (i) determining that respondent was not the decedent’s common law spouse; and (ii) directing respondent to reimburse the estate for the amount he withdrew from decedent’s bank account after her death?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

On the issue of marriage, the court held that a common law marriage was established by the mutual consent or agreement of the parties to be husband and wife, followed by a mutual and open assumption of a marital relationship. According to the court, the determination of whether a common marriage exists turned on issues of fact and credibility, which were properly within the province of the finder of fact. The court held that the trial court correctly determined that respondent was not the common law spouse of the decedent based on the evidence presented. The court noted that while the decedent and respondent had discussed marriage, the former did not want to get married. The decedent retained her own name, and both filed separate income tax returns.

On the issue of reimbursement, the court held that the respondent failed to show that it would have been inequitable for the estate to be reimbursed for the funds used by the respondent to pay for the decedent estate’s debt.

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