When your spouse dies as a result of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you have the right to pursue wrongful death compensation. Maryland specifies who can be the beneficiary in a wrongful death claim. The spouse children and parents are at the top of the list. If none of those exist, anyone who was substantially dependent on the decedent and related by blood or marriage can become a beneficiary. But common law marriage complicates the issue, and many couples who believe they have a common law marriage do not have a legally valid marriage at all. An experienced Maryland injury attorney can tell you how this applies in your case.
You Cannot Form a Common Law Marriage in Maryland
There are many misconceptions about common law marriage and how it works. A common belief is that if you live together for a certain length of time you automatically have a common law marriage. This is not so. In Maryland, you cannot form a common law marriage at all. Very few states allow common law marriages and in those that do, it is not a simple matter of living together for a certain amount of time.
If you were under the impression that you had formed a common law marriage in Maryland, you need to know that you will not be recognized as the spouse in a wrongful death claim. Similarly, if you believe that you have a claim as someone related by marriage, but a marriage that is not recognized in Maryland, you will not be recognized as a beneficiary.
Common Law Marriages Formed in Other States
A few states do allow for the formation of a common law marriage and if you formed your marriage in one of those states, and did it correctly, in a way that is legally binding in that state, Maryland will recognize you as the spouse. Proving that you had a legally binding common law marriage can be very challenging.
You May Benefit from a Survival Action by the Estate
If you are named in the will, a survival action by your loved one’s estate may help you. The money does not go directly to you, it goes to the estate, and the damage are not the same as in a wrongful death claim. Damages available in the survival action are the damages the decedent could have received through a personal injury lawsuit had they survived their injuries, but without damages for future expenses and losses.