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.
Laws of Intestate Succession
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.
Jointly Held Property
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.
Unmarried Couples and Children
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.
The Importance of a Will
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.
West Chester Wills and Estates Lawyers at Eckell Sparks Help Cohabiting Couples Protect Their Assets
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.