Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, May 25, 2009

Should a fiance/financee have rights?

Fiancee Under the law of most, if not all, states, the non-legal status of being someone's finance or fiancee gives that person no rights upon the partner's death or disability.

As described in William Wan, A Life Lost, a Plan Derailed, A Fiancee Left in Limbo, Wash. Post, May 25, 2009, this basic principle can cause considerable heartache.

Here are the basic facts of the situation describe in the article:

  • Sgt. Michael Hullender (United States Army) was engaged to Kyle Harper (a woman).
  • Michael and Kyle considered marriage but elected not to get married.
  • Michael was killed in Iraq in 2007.
  • Kyle was not notified of his death by the Army; instead, she learned about it from his parents.
  • Because being engaged does not create a legally recognized relationship, the Army treated Kyle as if she was unrelated to Michael so she received no casualty pay, no grief counseling, and had no input into his burial.
  • Problems developed between Kyle and Michael's biological family members.
  • One survey revealed that about 25% of soldiers have non-spousal significant others.

Special thanks to Alfred Brophy (Reef C. Ivey II Professor of Law, University of North Carolina) and his student Elyse Nieves for bringing this article to my attention.


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I don't think that nonspousal significant others should have rights upon the person's death or disability. With the exception of gay relationships, people have the ability to get those rights and for whatever reason, have chosen not to or have not had the opportunity to do so. As harsh as it is, the law has to draw lines. Marriage is reasonable line in matters like this.

Keep in mind that through wills, power of attorneys and other estate planning documents, a person can give a nonspousal significant other rights upon their death or disability.

Posted by: Christine Clary | May 25, 2009 11:21:53 AM

Michael had the opportunity on his DD93 to list Kyle as a person, other then next of kin, to receive notification of his death or if he were listed missing in action. on this form he also had the option to leave all or a portion of the $100,000 death gratuity to her. He could leave any or all of his $400,000 servicemembers life insurance policy to her. He could list her on the DD93 as the person to direct the disposition of his remains and receive his last pay and allowances. All of these things the article refers to as "casualty pay". The servicemember has tremendous latitude and the military will abide by his or her wishes. If Michael had wanted to change this he could, if he had I suspect the WA Post article slant would be Military ignored the family for the "mere" fiancee.

Posted by: Janet Fenton | May 26, 2009 10:44:04 AM

A friend of mine died in an auto accident recently in Pennsylvania. I was wondering if his fiance and the mother of his youngest child, has any rights concerning the disposition of his estate. They were to be married at the end of this month. He was estranged from his family for a number of years and they stepped in and took control of his body and made all of the burial arrangements and even went so far as to ban his fiance from the funeral and burial. They then proceeded to divide up his estate less than 24 hours after his death.

Posted by: william hartranft | Aug 11, 2009 1:25:31 PM

This is why my fiance and I list each other as the emergency contact and beneficiary on ALL paperwork we fill out. There is never any question. My emergency contact & life insurance as well as ADD beneficiary is ALWAYS him. My fiance sets me as the beneficiary and emergency contact. This is for fear of a situation in which they may try to take control if he is ever hurt or killed, and not necessarily do what he would want. So, even if something were to happen before we had enough money to get married, We would still have the same power as if we were married.

Posted by: Larissa | Jul 27, 2012 2:07:53 PM

Its time for the law to be changed. Everyone has a right to live their life as they see fit and no one has a right to just step in and act like they were this and that in a person's life simply because they are children of the deceased or ex spouses. I have cried a river of tears simply because the man I loved was killed not two weeks ago and his brother and children entered my loved one's property and acted like they'd hit the jack pot instead of morning the loss of a loved one.

Posted by: A widow b4 a bride | Aug 6, 2012 4:45:00 PM

Ok so my fiance just died on monday in a car accident. His parents are not allowing me to be involved with any of the arrangements. Im so made and angry because they know how much we loved each other. They even said themselvves that I was the closest thing to a wife he had. We lived as though we were married and in our hearts we already was. We live in MA but yet his parents are shipping his body to Florida. Im so pissed that they would be soooooo damn selfish about his body that they would take him away from everyone he knows.And what pisses me off even more is that my fiance has already told me when he was alive where he wanted to be burried, which is next to his daughter. How dear his parents take away that wish and right from him. How do you love ur child but then spit on his last resting wish?

Posted by: Sheila Stevens | Mar 2, 2013 7:42:42 AM

My fiancée suffers from a brain injured and his mom will not let me see him. Personally I think it's selfish and mean.

Posted by: Yuvelle way | Apr 23, 2014 11:40:04 PM

My fiancé died and I had no say. I am drafting a Fiancé Bill Of Rights and hopefully writing a book about so many losses suffered by fiancés.

Posted by: Shell Glenn F. | May 10, 2019 6:38:49 PM

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