Long-term relationships and domestic partnerships are becoming more common in today’s society, which brings with it a host of legal issues, especially when it comes to estate planning and death. Unlike in a traditional marital relationship, when one of the partners becomes deceased, there are no marriage laws to protect the surviving partner when claiming the assets of their now deceased partner’s estate.
For example, let’s say a man and woman are in a romantic relationship for 15 years, as boyfriend and girlfriend. The man had adult children from a previous marriage, but besides that, he wanted to leave a few of his investment properties to his girlfriend upon his passing. He tried drafting a will to ensure his girlfriend would receive those properties, but died just days before getting around to executing the final document. In Florida, without proper legal paperwork asserting otherwise, non-marital partners have no inheritance rights.
In other words, without a valid will or concurrent ownership of property, the intestate succession laws do not favor non-blood related relatives when it comes to asset distribution, regardless of the duration of the relationship.
How Can I Ensure Inheritance If I Am A Non-Married Partner in Florida?
There are plenty of ways to succession plan for non-married partners, and to ensure the wishes of the deceased are met. First, a valid will is always encouraged, if not necessary, and speaking with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you reach those goals. A will is a legal document that is drafted during a person’s lifetime. Upon their passing, the will is then obtained and admitted into probate, where the deceased’s assets will proceed to be distributed pursuant to the terms in the will. This is a great mechanism for non-married couples, because a will allows you to grant your property to practically anyone you wish. This would have helped in the above example, had the boyfriend gone ahead and drafted the will that included the devises of property to the girlfriend, there would have been little to no room for debate as to if she was entitled to that property.
Many non-married couples may opt to have concurrent ownership in property, where both of their names are listed on the deed, giving them joint ownership. This is known as joint tenancy or joint tenancy with the right of survivorship. In this case, if one partner dies, the ownership interest of the deceased will pass over to the survivor partner. This can often times be a better alternative to a will, because a concurrent estate avoids the probate system completely, and the transfer of ownership happens almost instantaneously upon the passing of the other owner.
Why A Cohabitation Agreement Is Essential For Non-Married Couples?
Another option is a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal and binding agreement that acknowledges that two individuals who are non-married partners have decided to live together. As mentioned in the beginning, married couples are ultimately protected by marriage laws, and preserve their right to each other’s property and assets. A cohabitation agreement, on the other hand, is very similar to a marital protection, because it treats the two cohabitants as if they were a married couple. A non-married couple can appropriately safeguard their assets by having a cohabitation agreement, as an agreement like this can include terms with assignment of rights and provide provisions as to how the property will be dealt with and distributed to upon the other partner’s passing.
In other words, without a legally recognized partnership, like marriage, a long-term domestic partner has little to no entitlement by law to their deceased partner’s estate. That is why it is important to plan ahead and consider the future in case any of these unfortunate instances occur.