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Long-Time Companion Is Not Entitled To Share of Estate

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APRIL 29, 2002 VOLUME 9, NUMBER 44
Sam Vires and Shirley Schulze were romantically involved for three decades and even lived together for most of the last fifteen years of their relationship. When Mr. Vires died in 1997, however, his will left nothing to Ms. Schulze.

Mr. Vires’ will was written in 1984, eight years after he divorced his wife and sixteen years after his affair with Ms. Schulze began. Nonetheless, that will left his estate to his three sons and his ex-wife in four equal shares, and made no provision for his long-time partner and lover.

Ms. Schulze first sought a share of Mr. Vires’ estate by arguing that they were actually married. Four years before his death, Mr. Vires and Ms. Schulze had a local judge and friend perform an impromptu “wedding” ceremony during a social event at the yacht club where they were all members. After that Mr. Vires even bought Ms. Schulze an “anniversary” ring—but the couple never obtained or filed a marriage license to formalize the faux wedding. Tennessee, where the couple lived, does not recognize “common-law” marriages.

Since there was never an effective wedding Ms. Schulze was not Mr. Vires’ surviving wife, and the probate court threw out her claim to a share of his estate. Ms. Schulze had still another theory, however—she argued that she should be compensated for taking care of Mr. Vires during the last year of his life.

Mr. Vires had become seriously ill about sixteen months before his death, and required full-time care for the entire period. Ms. Schulze stayed with him, prepared his meals, took care of his medications, helped him dress and groom himself and transported him back and forth to doctors appointments and the hospital. As his condition worsened she took care of his basic hygiene, even assisting him to go to the bathroom and, nearer the end of his life, to use a bedpan.

Ms. Schulze was not the only one providing care for Mr. Vires. She also hired caretakers for respite care and to help when the burden became too difficult. Those caretakers were paid between $7 and $10 per hour; Ms. Schulze received no salary for her part in taking care of her companion.

Ms. Schulze argued that she should receive compensation for her caretaking; she suggested $600,000, which is about what she would have received if she had in fact been married to Mr. Vires. The probate court, however, found that she had provided the care because the couple was close, rather than in anticipation of getting paid, and her claim for payment was denied. Ms. Schulze appealed.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals agreed with the probate court, and upheld the denial of her claim for services. Because of the closeness of their relationship, ruled the court, there was a presumption that she provided her services as caretaker gratuitously. The testimony of several friends that Mr. Vires always meant to “take care of her” did not overcome that presumption. In Re Estate of Vires, April 10, 2002.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.