Benefits of Marriage

Millions of Reasons to Say “I Do”

Lillian Garis Booth and Michael Dabich, residents of Bergen County, were companions for 51 years.  They met in New York when Booth was 42 and Dabich was 27.  According to Dabich, they held themselves out as husband and wife before his family and society in general in his home state of Pennsylvania.  No ceremony was ever held in any State.

Lillian died on November 22, 2007 at the age of 92.  Mr. Dabich filed a suit against her estate, as she had a Will created in 1958 and codicil created in 1991, neither of which mentioned of him.  The matter was settled.

The good news for Michael is that he received $9.9 million in the settlement.  The bad news was that Lillian’s estate was worth approximately $200 million.  Because they were not married in a valid civil or religious ceremony, the estate had to pay nearly $1.5 million in taxes as the payment to him was neither exempt from inheritance tax nor could qualify for the marital deduction for the estate tax.

More significantly, depending on when a valid marriage ceremony would have taken place, Michael could have received substantial economic benefit.  Under the theory of the omitted spouse share (where a will is written before marriage), he could have received the entire estate, as she had no children. Under the theory of the elective share (where a will is written after marriage), he could have received one-third, or approximately $67 million dollars.

The decision to marry or not marry is extremely personal.  Certainly, as the old axiom goes, one should not marry solely for money.  Yet, in the case of a longstanding personal relationship, each party should consider the economic ramifications of their decision to forego marriage.

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