I’ll take care of it tomorrow.
How many times have you said this in the past year? It seems innocuous enough, especially when something is as trivial as mailing a letter or taking out the garbage. But there are some things, such as going to the doctor or planning your retirement, that could have major effects on your life if you continually wait until tomorrow.
One of the biggest things many of us put off is drafting a will or putting together a trust. Most people understand that no one is guaranteed a set number of days, however, we also believe we have all the time in the world because nothing bad will ever happen to us. The truth is, life is unpredictable and it’s always better to make sure your loved ones are protected should tomorrow never come.
This is especially true for couples who choose to remain unwed.
Many believe the fallacy that even if you aren’t married, as long as you’re in a long-term, loving relationship, you’ll still receive all of your partner’s assets in the unlikely event of their death. It comes from the idea of a common-law marriage, wherein anyone living together for over seven years will automatically inherit their partners assets.
However, there are only a few states that recognize common-law marriages, and neither California nor Arizona is one of them.
In both California and Arizona, the law will always see unmarried couples as separate individuals. No matter how long you may have lived together, unless there is a will or trust that designates you as a beneficiary, only legally married and civil partners may inherit the deceased’s assets.
Therefore, if someone were to die without a will or trust, the entire estate would be subject to intestate laws. This means that if you do not already co-own the assets (being a co-signer on a mortgage, having a shared bank account, etc.), all assets that were solely in the deceased’s name must go through intestacy.
There are a few things you can do if you are caught in this situation, such as claiming beneficial interest — which is an interest in the economic benefit of the property — or rearrangement of the way the property is shared. In the case of housing, depending on whether you have joint tenancy (in which both parties own equal shares in the property) or Tenants-in-Common (in which each owner has a distinct and separate share in the property), you may have rights of survivorship or will see your partner’s shares divided to other rightful heirs.
Bottom line: if you are living with a partner and do not wish to be legally married, make sure to have a will or trust in place. However, if you do happen to find tragedy strike without a will or trust, always seek out the expertise of a licensed attorney to help you navigate through the very complex, stressful and sometimes confusing matters of intestate.