Last week I wrote about the new Colorado law that allows any two unmarried adults to become "designated beneficiaries" and thus gain what essentially amounts to next-of-kin status. I love this law!
But it's still not a statute that matches the purpose of various laws to the families/relationships that the law should encompass. Here's what I mean. It's perfect that the law allows designation of a medical and burial decisionmaker and a person who will inherit if you die without a will. That's because the purpose of any law on those subjects is to advance individual autonomy.
But the selection of a designated beneficiary also establishes who can sue for wrongful death or obtain employee partner benefits. When I consider the purpose of those laws, I don't think autonomy; I think economic interdependence. So ability to recover for wrongful death should attach to anyone in a relationship of economic dependence or interdependence. No marriage or registration should be required. In fact, even married couples should have to show economic interdependence to come within these laws.
Colorado does this now for workers compensation survivors benefits. The purpose of these benefits is compensation for the loss of an economic provider. A spouse -- and now a designated beneficiary -- cannot receive the benefit if s/he was not living with the worker who died or not dependent, at least in part, on the worker who died. So far so good.
But the benefit should go to anyone dependent in whole or in part of the deceased worker. A few states do this now. Those laws should be models for all states.
I'm still so excited about the new Colorado law. It's a big improvement over the all-or-nothing status based on whether a couple is married, and I love the fact that the two people can pick the legal consequences they want. More laws like this and it will be easier to see the wisdom of matching the purpose of any law and the relationships subject to that law.