In many instances, it is even more important for unmarried couples to have Wills in place than it is for married couples. That’s because the state has developed a default estate plan for married individuals that includes their spouse. This plan is called the intestacy statute – intestacy means to die without a valid Will. The same intestacy statute applies to unmarried individuals, but that plan does not include the unmarried individual’s partner.
For example, Joe and Sue have been married for one year. Joe dies in a freak juggling accident and does not have a valid Will. Who inherits Joe’s assets under the intestacy statute? As with all things in the legal world, the answer is “it depends.” It depends on who survived Joe besides Sue. Did he have children? Are his parents living? Regardless of how Joe’s estate will actually be distributed, a share of his assets will go to Sue because she is his surviving spouse. Unless of course, she arranged for his death or deserted him or for some reason does not deserve a share of his estate, but those are the narrow exceptions to the rule. As with all rules in the legal world, there are some exceptions.
On the other hand, Mary and Bob are not married. They have lived together for thirty years, have a family together, and intend to stay together as a couple for the rest of their lives. Mary dies peacefully in her sleep and does not have a valid Will. Who inherits Mary’s assets under the intestacy statute? We know the answer – it depends on who survived Mary besides Bob. We also know that regardless of how Mary’s estate will be distributed, none of her assets will go to Bob. Not a single red cent. If Mary has no heirs under the intestacy statute (a very rare occurrence), her assets will become property of the state. Is that what Mary would want to happen? Probably not, so she had better make a Will.
The personal relationship between people does not matter legally in this situation. Only the legal relationship matters.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss Wills for unmarried couples or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.