All too often one partner in a relationship dies without having provided for the other. If you are not married and have not entered into any type of legal contract with your partner like a cohabitation agreement, you could be out on the street. It happens. Too many times, I have been in the unfortunate position of having to call the surviving partner to express condolences, ask how they are doing, and politely ask when they will be able to vacate the premises.
Your partner may be very well intentioned. After all, he pays for your dinners out, vacations, gym membership, and car lease. Maybe he even gives you a monthly stipend for clothes, hair and nails. He says he will always take care of you, and he doesn’t plan on dying any time soon. But sadly, life has other plans and he dies unexpectedly while out for a jog or after you return home from vacation.
The situation is exacerbated if minor children are involved. If you have children together, they may have rights and you should be able to speak on your minor child’s behalf as the surviving parent, but you may have no rights yourself. That is hard to grasp especially while you are grieving your life partner and the dream life you were supposed to have. You are left to wonder who will take care of you.
If you are living with someone who you are not married to, you need to make sure you don’t lose everything if he dies suddenly. Here is what you need to know:
• Your partner needs to have a will that includes you. Make sure the executor is someone who will be sensitive to your situation. If he has a family from a prior marriage, this is particularly important. You do not want to feel like you are taking second seat to his first family. All of you should be able to grieve and feel respected during that process.
• Check his beneficiary designations. It does not matter if he has a will if all his assets pass to a named beneficiary. Naming you as a beneficiary of a life insurance policy will make sure you get access to cash fairly quickly to pay bills. He can also name you as a joint owner or a payable on death beneficiary on a bank account.
• Consider a cohabitation agreement. This type of contract could give you the ability to stay in the house if he dies. This is particularly helpful if you pay some of the household bills.
• Look into joint ownership. If he puts your name on the deed to his house, you will own the house outright on his death as the surviving joint owner. Just make sure you have enough cash to be able to stay in it.
• Make sure all minor children are taken care of. If you have minor children with him, make sure he has provided for your children along with any minor children from prior relationships. If he has an ex-wife, his divorce agreement may require that he has life insurance to meet his alimony and child support obligations. You do not want to be fighting with his ex over this.
• Review his health care proxy. If he is hospitalized, you want to be sure you can visit him, speak with his doctors and make medical decisions. You do not want to be boxed out by his other family members. Remember you have no legal standing unless you are married or are named as his health care proxy.
• Discuss what will happen to his remains. As morbid as it sounds, this question comes up a lot and people often fight over who will control the body. If there is any concern that his other family members will fight with you over spreading his ashes near your favorite island getaway, make sure that his wishes are expressed in writing in accordance with state law. This usually means his intentions need to be included in his will.
Many people share their lives today without getting married. If your significant other is supporting you, you need to protect yourself in the event he dies. You need to make sure that you are not left looking for a place to live and figuring out a way to pay your bills while grieving the person with whom you were supposed to spend the rest of your life.