Houston Estate Planning Law Blog

HOUSTON ATTORNEY’S ESTATE SETTLES WITH LONGTIME PARTNER

The estate of the prominent Houston-area attorney John O’Quinn and the woman who said she was his common-law wife when he died reached a settlement in her lawsuit on Jan. 4, shortly before trial was to begin. Though the couple never married and O’Quinn did not name her in his will, the woman had contended that he had been her “husband, partner and lover” and meant to provide for her out of his estate.

O’Quinn, who operated a successful civil litigation firm and is the namesake of John O’Quinn Field at the University of Houston’s Robertson Stadium, died in a car accident in October 2009. His will instructed that his entire estate should go to his foundation.

But his longtime partner contested the will. She described herself as O’Quinn’s common-law wife and therefore entitled to a large share in the estate. The couple was together for more than 10 years, lived in the same home, and the woman was the beneficiary of O’Quinn’s life insurance policy. Common law marriages, in which a couple never legally marries but lives and holds themselves out to the world as a married couple, are recognized under Texas law.

Not all of the evidence points to O’Quinn and the woman having been a common law married couple. Besides the fact that O’Quinn never amended his will to name her as a beneficiary, he may have told people shortly before his death that he was single. Still, the estate’s attorneys were concerned about bringing the case to trial, since the jury may have sympathized with the plaintiff.

Terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The woman’s attorney said it was “a fair and reasonable agreement.”

Among the notable assets in O’Quinn’s estate is a collection of classic cars. The plaintiff had previously fought the estate managers to prevent the sale of some of the vehicles. It is not clear whether the settlement included the handover of any of the vehicles to the plaintiff.

Source: Houston Chronicle, “Settlement reached in O’Quinn estate case,” Mike Tolson, Jan. 4, 2012

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