You may have heard the term ‘common law marriage’ referring to people who live together and consider themselves married, but who have not obtained a legal marriage license. It’s important to know that common law marriage is recognized in very few states — only eight in fact — and New York is NOT one of them.
What does this mean?
It means that couples who are living together but are not legally married cannot benefit from New York’s inheritance laws which provide for a surviving spouse and give the survivor certain rights. If one spouse in a married couple dies, the surviving spouse inherits under New York law. In the case of an unmarried couple, however, regardless of how long they have cohabitated, if one dies, the other does not have survivor rights.
This extends to social security benefits — When a spouse is widowed, he/she can continue to receive the higher of the couple’s monthly social security payments. Unfortunately, unmarried couples lose out on this benefit.
Take, for example, Jane and John who have been living together for 25 years. They share their finances and live together in a house that John owned before they met. When John suddenly dies, Jane is shocked to find out that the house, and all of John’s estate assets, will be going to his estranged son from an early marriage. Jane found that she had no legal right to any of John’s estate assets.
What can you do?
In the scenario above, John could have protected Jane by having a comprehensive estate plan in place, with a Will or trust that provided for Jane in the event of his death.
It is tremendously important for people who are life-long partners, but not legally married, to develop an estate plan to protect their partner. We can help!
Everyone’s financial and living situation is different and that is why it is important to consult with an experienced Elder Law attorney to determine what the right estate plan is for you. At Makofsky Law Group, P.C. we are here to help with all of your estate planning and future needs. We are only an email or phone call away!
The information provided in this email does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available here are for general informational purposes only.