Thomas Proehl and James Morrison were married in San Francisco in 2008. Thomas died suddenly in 2011. He did not have a will. He did have a bank account, in his name only, that contained the proceeds from the sale of the couple's home in California. The men intended to put James' name on the account, but never got around to it.
Tom Proehl also planned to name his spouse, Jim, as the beneficiary of his life insurance. But, he didn't get it done before his death.
Without a will, Tom's estate became a probate asset. Under Minnesota law, Jim is not recognized as a legal descendant. He has no rights to inherit under Minnesota law.
The judge also ruled that Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act, does not prohibit a surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage from being covered by the state's intestacy statutes, "...the language of the Minnesota DOMA does not prohibit a surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage from receiving statutory rights under the Uniform Probate Code."
The judge's decision is extensive and includes citations to the mini-DOMAs from other states as well as an evaluation of them. The decision also reviews the legislative history of Minnesota's DOMA.
This decision applies only to this case. It is not a precedent and other judges in Minnesota are not bound to follow it. However, because Judge Quam took the time to research and write a cogent and articulate decision, other Minnesota judges may be compelled to adopt it in similar cases.
This is a good example of the importance of estate planning for LGBT people. Jim and Tom marriage would be recognized in 6 states and the District of Columbia as a legally married couple. In several other states, their marriage would be recognized as a Domestic Partnership or Civil Union. Unfortunately, in most states, including Minnesota, it would not be recognized. They would be viewed as legal strangers. Had Tom's parents opposed Jim's petition, the outcome might have been different.
Most lesbian and gay couples do not have a will. They have not prepared the legal documents necessary to protect themselves. And, if they have children, their failure to have an estate plan places their children at risk.
Jim Morrison is fortunate to have been successful. He is also fortunate that Tom's parents backed him up. They supported Jim's efforts to inherit Tom's estate.
But, Jim may be the only beneficiary if the state's mini-DOMA is amended to prevent a similar outcome in the future. There are many right-wing, anti-gay, anti-marriage equality folks who would like nothing better than to take up the gauntlet and protect heterosexual marriage.
And, remember, Michelle Bachmann is from Minnesota.