Hervella v. Kriebel, Administrator of the Estate of Margaret A. O’Neil
Case on behalf of Amalia Hervella who was denied access to the estate of her deceased partner because they were not married
Amalia Hervella and Margaret O’Neil were committed life partners for nearly 20 years when O’Neil died in 2000. During their time together, they promised to provideand care for each other. Unfortunately, O’Neil died suddenly, without the prepared will she had promised to write. In addition to dealing with the trauma of losing her life partner, Hervella experienced further devastation when O’Neil’s distant cousins laid claim to the entire estate and evicted her. Unable to afford to stay in San Diego, Hervella was forced to leave her home, friends and adopted country of forty years and return to Spain, her country of origin. Hervella sued the administrator of O’Neil’s estate arguing that the rules of California law that allow a surviving different-sex partner in these circumstances to seek a share of the estate should apply to an unmarried same-sex partner. The case was successfully settled a month before trial, but Hervella was only able to receive a fraction of what she would have been entitled to had she and O’Neil been able to marry or register as domestic partners, or if O’Neil had completed the estate plan she repeatedly promised Hervella she would prepare.
Less than half of Americans have a will when they die. This fact is even more devastating when it applies to same-sex partners who do not have access to marriage or another legal status to secure their relationship, or who choose not to marry or enter a civil union or state-registered domestic partnership.
Lambda Legal’s Impact
Lambda Legal’s accomplishment in this case sent the message that promises made within committed same-sex relationships are just as legitimate as those made within heterosexual relationships. But, until same-sex couples are treated as fully equal under both state and federal law, they will remain vulnerable, especially if they do not take the basic steps to prepare the proper legal documents to carry out their wishes after death and to ensure that their loved ones are provided for financially.
- 2001: Case filed in San Diego Superior Court.
- 2002: Case settled a month before trial.