These days, more and more couples are living in quasi-marital situations without formally tying the knot. Whether or not to marry is a personal decision, but couples must realize if one of them dies unexpectedly without a will, their unmarried status puts the survivor at a distinct disadvantage.
No matter whether the couple prefers the term partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, or some other distinction when referring to their significant other, if they cannot use the term spouse, they are not part of state laws regarding intestate succession. These are the laws regulating who receives the assets in a deceased person’s estate when no will exists, and they are based on marital and blood ties. Even if the person does not leave a will, if they are married the spouse inherits the bulk of the estate, and possibly all of it if the deceased had no offspring.
Any property titled solely in the deceased’s name is subject to the laws of intestate succession, and that leaves the cohabiting person out in the cold. Even if the couple lived together for decades, if they are not married, the property goes to any children of the late person or their next closest relative, not the boyfriend or girlfriend.
The laws of intestate succession do not apply to jointly held property, such as shared bank accounts. The surviving owner of the account receives the assets. If the couple owns real estate together, a lot depends on how the property is titled. If held jointly with right of survivorship, the survivor receives the real estate. However, if the property is held as tenants in common, which is often the case with unmarried couples, the late person’s half becomes part of their estate. If the closest surviving relative for intestate succession purposes is a parent, for example, this person now owns the other half of the house. The survivor must either buy out the other person’s half if they wish to remain on the property or sell it and receive half the value.
Many unmarried couples have children together. If one parent dies without a will, by the laws of intestate succession the children are the closest surviving relatives, and they inherit the estate. If the children are still minors, the assets are held in a trust until they come of age, but their other parent has no direct access to these assets. If the surviving partner depended financially on the late partner, this could cause serious issues for the survivor and children.
A simple will can avoid all of this disruption. No one likes to think about their demise, but the fact is that death is a certainty and we can never know when it will come. Unmarried couples can create wills leaving all or most of their property to the other person. Simply leaving the half of the house owned as tenants in common to the partner means the survivor can make a decision regarding the property without dealing with a third-party owner.
If you are part of a cohabiting couple and want to ensure your assets are distributed in the way you intended after your death, you need the services of the experienced West Chester Wills and Estate Lawyers at Eckell, Sparks, Levy, Auerbach, Monte, Sloane, Matthews & Auslander, P.C. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call us at 610-565-3701. Located in West Chester and Media, Pennsylvania, we proudly serve clients throughout Delaware County, Chester County, and Montgomery County.
A Message to Our Customers About Coronavirus COVID-19:
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We want to assure everyone that during this unprecedented and difficult time, we are still operating and will continue to meet all the legal needs of the residents of the Delaware Valley. While the Governor’s recent orders have restricted the operations of some businesses, Eckell Sparks has deployed a variety of applications and hardware that allows both our attorneys and our support staff to confer with clients remotely, provide consultations to those seeking legal advice, and continue to provide the high level of legal services to our clients as we have always done. For more than 50 years, our Firm has been a force in the Delaware Valley legal community. And by now also leveraging technology, we will continue to do so both during, and after, the current public health emergency.
So, if you need us, we are here. Are you an employer and don’t know what to do under all the new Corona-virus laws being passed in Washington? Were you injured in a car accident either before, or during, the current crisis? Call or email us. We can help. www.eckellsparks.com 610-565-3700.
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