Protecting Your Cohabitation Partner Financially If You Pass Away

Posted on: 4 May 2015


You may feel confident that nobody in your family would dispute your inheritance intentions for your partner if you were to pass away. Nevertheless, it's essential for you to have a will in place.

Many people believe that living together for a certain length of time constitutes a common-law marriage and that the spouse automatically inherits assets, but that's usually not the case. Others trust their family not to contest intentions that the cohabitation partner inherits real estate and valuable belongings, but often that trust is misplaced.

Common-Law Marriage in Your State

Not even half the states legally recognize common-law marriage. Those that do recognize this as a legal relationship have specific guidelines that vary by state. Examples include living together for a certain number of years, having joint financial accounts and owning real estate together. 

The situation becomes more problematic when the couple isn't heterosexual. Nearly all states do not recognize common-law marriage for same-sex partners; as of May 2015, only Rhode Island and the District of Columbia do. 

The Importance of a Will

Depending on your age, you may not have yet felt any urgency to create a will. You also might assume that your family members will respect your wishes if you've told them you want your partner to inherit an asset such as a house, a savings account or a vehicle that's in your name only. 

It's impossible to predict how relatives will react after you're gone. All it takes is one close family member to contest whether your significant other should inherit one of those assets, and your good intentions can quickly be erased. 

Financial Instruments With Beneficiaries

If you haven't yet done so, you may want to consider any financial instruments you have with named beneficiaries and decide whether you want to list your partner. Again, depending on your age, you may not feel any urgency, but unexpected events sometimes occur. Consider whether you may want to add your significant other as the beneficiary of financial products such as your life insurance policy or your retirement account. 

Concluding Thoughts

A family lawyer (such as one from Vega Acosta Law Firm) can evaluate your circumstances, advise you on relevant laws and work up a will that would be extremely difficult for someone to challenge effectively. That way, you can have the peace of mind knowing that the person you consider your spouse will inherit the property you want them to have should you pass away.