Look, I get it. The modern family isn’t always the traditional Ward and June Cleaver (or even the Brady Bunch). Today, “family” means nearly any construct of people. Perhaps the most prolific family ‘type’ in modern times has been the unmarried couple who live together outside of a formal marriage relationship. The people we lovingly say are “shacking up.”
Although I never personally did it, I have plenty of friends who looked at living together as the next logical step in the progression of their relationship. You date – then you live together – and, later, if it has all worked out, you’ll think about marriage. Or not. You and your significant other sign a lease, buy some furniture and make a home. Sounds lovely, right? Not so fast. Without even thinking about it, you’re putting each other at terrible legal risk.
Only yesterday, a young woman came into our office seeking help. Her boyfriend (the love of her life) recently died unexpectedly in a tragic accident. He died doing something that thousands of people do every year around the world. The activity wasn’t uncommonly risky. In a matter of minutes, their lives went from happily living together to abruptly over.
Her boyfriend was a young, up-and-coming professional. He made good money and was passionate about his career. His employer had an accidental death life insurance policy and the young man owned various, somewhat expensive, personal items (like furniture, etc.). My first question to the young woman – did he have a will? Answer: no.
Unfortunately, in the State of Texas (and mostly everywhere), in a situation like this, the surviving girlfriend/boyfriend/fiance often has no legal right to the decedent’s property. The law provides that when someone dies without a Last Will & Testament, the decedent’s surviving family members inherit their property. Though the young man treated and considered his girlfriend as his family, in the eyes of the law, she is not. She has no rights of inheritance from him and his parents inherit all of his property. Literally, she is left with none of his property.
The reality is simple: the law has not yet caught up to identify unmarried persons as ‘family‘ for purposes of inheritance. To truly protect your girlfriend/boyfriend, you should either have a Last Will & Testament, identify yourselves as common-law spouses, or become formally married. Only those 3 scenarios will provide your loved one with the legal rights that will protect them. Working with an Attorney to create a simple estate plan is, by far, the simplest way of ensuring everyone is protected and your wishes are known.
Our firm helps families of all types ensure that they are legally protected and stands up for their rights.
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ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, Business Law and Family Law.