Our legal codes often do a particularly poor job of keeping up with how people actually live. Our legal system developed out of the traditions of Medieval England and were refined in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout those times periods, a man and a woman got married and typically stayed married until they passed away. Our estate laws assume that’s what everyone does. However, today, many men and women move in together without ever getting married. This can create problems if one of them passes away.
In a typical New York scenario, one person might own a nice walk-up brownstone. When the couple decides to move in together, the other person moves into the brownstone but is never put on any titles or deeds. What happens if the owner passes away without an estate plan? The law does not have provisions that give ownership to the other person, even if he or she has contributed towards household expenses and the mortgage. Instead, the walk-up will go to the deceased owner’s relatives. Things get even more complicated if the unmarried couple jointly own property.
It’s now socially acceptable to live together out of wedlock, but that does not mean that the law has kept up with the times. It hasn’t. Talk to an estate planning attorney if you are not married to your live-in boyfriend or girlfriend