Monday, July 04, 2011

Marriage vs Common-Law

3 thoughts after reading the following article.
  1. I would chose marriage rather than common-law to avoid all that legal and financial issues.
  2. In the same vein, I would support marriage for LGBTs (or "queers" -- the more encompassing term used in Canada).
  3. It is important to have a will that is properly written up and preferably done by a lawyer to ensure that it will be recognized legally. It is also important that the existence of the will is made known to its designated executor and/or publicly, e.g. on a wills database. I had all that done before flying out of Singapore. Although I am not wealthy (i.e. no where near a millionaire), it gives me the peace of mind that my next-of-kins will inherit my assets as per my wishes. In addition, intestate succession usually takes longer to process than succession based on a will.

From Golden Girl Finance - Jul 4, 2011

The Hornet’s Nest of common law: a cautionary tale
Lessons from Eva Gabrielsson – the woman behind the late great author Stieg Larsson

When author Stieg Larsson died in 2004, he was not a well-known writer apart from journalistic circles in his home country of Sweden. The author’s blockbuster books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest only became international bestsellers a few years after his death at the age of 50. But it is the story of his life with Eva Gabrielsson that has all the drama and intrigue of one of his books.
Thirty-two years, unofficially

Stieg met Eva when he was 18, and the pair were soulmates for 32 years. They lived together in Stockholm where they shared ownership of an apartment. They both worked as writers and Stieg composed his novels on evenings and weekends. Much of Stieg’s day work was highly political and investigative, therefore the couple sought to keep their identities concealed and did not marry so as to avoid any official registration with the state. The couple had no children.

After Stieg suffered a heart attack and died, Eva dug through closets and old boxes of letters and documents. It was here that she found a will that Stieg had written in 1977, in an envelope marked, “To be opened only after my death.” Unfortunately, the will was never witnessed and was therefore invalid. The disbursement of Stieg’s estate was thus determined by Swedish law, which does not recognize common-law unions. Stieg’s belongings (a half-share with Eva on the apartment and other possessions) were granted to Stieg’s father and brother.

Eva was shattered, understandably, at the loss of her best friend and partner. She was also fraught with anxiety at her financial situation, since she claimed her in-laws were not communicative with her and now owned half of her home.

Posthumously famous

This family’s story became very public, however, when Stieg’s publisher released the first of his ‘Millennium’ trilogy of books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in 2005. The book was an instant international hit and suddenly, serious money flowed into Stieg’s estate. The next two books in the trilogy were published and by 2008, Stieg had become the world’s second bestselling author. Swedish filmmakers bought the film rights and Hollywood followed. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Daniel Craig, will be released later this year (the Swedish version was released in 2009).
The plot thickens

If the game of Clue were redesigned today, surely one of the weapons would be a laptop. Reportedly, Stieg’s trilogy of crime thriller novels was no trilogy; it was a quartet. A nearly completed fourth novel is said to reside on Stieg’s laptop, which he shared with Eva. Stieg’s family has offered Eva $2.6 million for the laptop, but she refused.

According to Eva, her primary interest is to be able to protect and control Stieg’s literary legacy, of which she was so much a part of in helping him create. She is unhappy with the way her former in-laws are allowing creative liberties to be taken with Stieg’s work.

Unless she is granted full rights to control how Stieg’s works are published, managed and sold, there is no deal and she will not allow the fourth book to be published.
Lessons for common-law couples

It doesn’t take a super sleuth like Lisbeth Salander to see that there are many lessons that common-law couples can learn from Stieg and Eva’s story.

Problem: Stieg and Eva never married. Under Swedish inheritance law, without a will in place, Eva was entitled to nothing.


* In Canada, common-law relationships are generally protected, with varying laws according to the province in which you live. Check the laws governing common-law relationships and inheritance rights in your province.
* Make sure your jurisdiction recognizes your common-law status. This means that you need to file taxes together as a common-law couple, ensure your drivers’ licenses, health cards and other government documentation have you both listed at the same primary home address. If the government has no official record of you living together, it could be difficult to claim common-law status after the fact.

Problem: Stieg wrote a will, but it was never witnessed and was therefore invalid. Larsson was declared ‘intestate’ meaning that the courts decided how his estate would be divided according to Sweden’s laws.


* Create wills and have them signed, dated and witnessed. Better yet, have them notarized by a lawyer or a notary public.
* File your wills where both you and your partner know you can find them.

Problem: There was no life insurance to give Eva a cushion and pay for Stieg’s funeral costs. Stieg’s half of the home he shared with Eva was inherited by Stieg’s father and brother.


* When you own assets or have investments together, you must have a proper will in place to manage the succession of those assets.
* Establish a life insurance policy sufficient to cover your debts as well as funeral costs so as not to burden your loved ones with personal financial pressure.
* Name your partner as the beneficiary on life insurance policies and investment plans such as RRSPs.

Problem: Eva helped Stieg with his fiction for more than 30 years and was intimately connected to his writing interests. Now his father and brother with whom Eva claims he had a distant relationship are controlling the rights to his work.


* Set up a corporation or a trust to hold certain property or intellectual rights.
* The succession plan for shareholder rights of a corporation or beneficiaries of a trust will exist outside of your own personal estate plan.

What Eva wants us to know

Eva has written her own book, which has just been published, about her life with Stieg and the saga that followed. While some might say she is capitalizing from the media attention of Stieg’s death, selling her own book is clearly a way for Eva to generate her own income, rather than taking the millions offered by Stieg’s family.

Regardless of how this story ends (or whether it ever does), there are some good, hard lessons for those couples who choose not to marry. You must be extra diligent in making sure your paperwork is in order, otherwise you truly are playing with fire.

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