Shannon Price Claims She’s Gary Coleman’s Widow

Posted July 22, 2010 in Your Family & The Law by Arthur Buono

Gary Coleman’s ex-wife has asked a Utah court to declare her the dead actor’s common law wife – er, widow. Shannon Price claims the couple continued to live together as husband and wife even after their 2008 divorce. The case now joins special domestic relations concepts to an already contested probate. Price has a lot more at stake than just her honor.

  • Surviving spouse has special rights in an estate
  • Common law marriage still allowed in some states
  • Holding out as husband and wife tricky after divorce


Common Law Marriage After Divorce

Call her crazy, but Price’s move actually makes a lot of sense. She stands to acquire status as Coleman’s surviving spouse. If Coleman had no will, under Utah law she would gain Coleman’s entire estate, because he had no children. Right now her claim to inherit rests on a handwritten note Coleman supposedly wrote after their marriage in 2007. Several other purported wills have surfaced.

About a third of the states recognize the common law marriage concept to some extent. Utah happens to be one. Generally though, a couple must hold themselves out as husband and wife in order for the state to recognize the marriage. This would seem difficult to do if you’ve just gotten a divorce from your actual marriage.

Every state has a method for distributing the property of someone who dies without a will, or intestate. If the decedent had no children, it all goes to the surviving spouse. Even if the decedent left a valid will, the surviving spouse often has special rights that prevent the spouse from being cut out. Called the elective share, this guarantees the spouse a certain percentage of the estate even if the will specifically left the spouse less, or nothing at all.

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