John E. Wallace


The meretricious relationship doctrine has received increased attention in recent years largely due to its application to same-sex couples' and the national debate on same-sex marriage. However, the importance of the doctrine, applicable also to heterosexual couples, extends beyond this recent focus. The number of unmarried, committed persons cohabitating has been increasing rapidly. Over eleven million people reported being unmarried but living with a partner in 2000, an increase of seventy-two percent since 1990. As the number of unmarried persons cohabitating increases, so will the importance of the doctrine. The meretricious relationship doctrine is a judicially-created equitable doctrine that allows unmarried committed persons who cohabitate to acquire an interest in property accumulated during the relationship, regardless of which partner holds legal title. Upon termination of the relationship, a court will apply this doctrine to divide the property equitably. This Article will illustrate that the meretricious relationship doctrine should be applied post mortem. Specifically, the meretricious relationship doctrine should apply (1) to the survivor of a meretricious relationship when the relationship terminates by the death of the other partner, (2) to the estates of the meretricious partners when both partners have died simultaneously, and (3) to the estate of a meretricious partner when the relationship terminates by that partner's death. The debate over whether the meretricious relationship doctrine should be applied post mortem centers on whether applying the doctrine post mortem will contravene Washington's intestacy laws, which do not provide any inheritance rights for unmarried cohabitants.