A Nashville Law Firm

phone icon615.321.5659


What happens to your partner when you die?



More United States adults are cohabiting with a partner than in years past. The Pew Research Center reports that as marriage rates have fallen, the number of adults in cohabiting relationships has continued to climb, reaching about 18 million in 2016.
You may be sharing an apartment or a house and co-mingling your other personal property. Which works well until you die. (No one needs to reflect very long on Nashville traffic to know that Nashville traffic fatalities have increased year by year as well). The surviving partner may well be dependent on the now deceased partner’s income as to staying in the shared housing or on continuing the life style the couple maintained. A will leaving property to the surviving partner may help provide that ability to continue in a familiar setting after the loss.
If the deceased does not leave a will it is known as dying intestate. The property of an individual dying intestate in Tennessee is subject to certain laws that govern distribution of their personal property and real property. If unmarried, the entire estate will go the individual’s children. If there are no children (or heirs of children), the estate goes to their parents. If no parents survive then an estate passes to the siblings (or their heirs). If there are no children, no parents and no siblings, the estate passes to more distant relatives. There is no provision in intestate inheritance for an unmarried partner.
The heirs at law can make it very difficult for the surviving partner by demanding property be distributed to them and an accounting made of co-mingled property. Access to the house to get personal property or beginning an eviction is possible. You hope that the heirs of a single decedent would be understanding, but that is not always the case.
A will can specify that your property goes to the surviving partner. It can also specify that the inheritance is only effective “as long as you are cohabiting” at the time of death. The will can also equitably divide an estate between the partner and other heirs. It is often something put off since almost no one likes to go to their lawyer’s office, but it is of great benefit and fairly simple to state in a will.
An older will takes care of being intestate but may no longer express the situation of a decedent if there is an unmarried partner in the picture. Since 2007, the number of cohabiting adults ages 50 and older grew by 75%. This increase is faster than that of other age groups during the same time period and driven in part by the aging of the Baby Boomers. A revised will may set up a trust of funds during the life time of a partner to allow them to have the benefit of funds if needed, but still provide that other heirs will benefit after the death of the partner. A life estate in real property may allow a survivor to live in a house they are used to during the rest of their life. This intentional planning may take the burden of determining what the wishes of the decedent were off the adult children of the deceased. Updating an existing will (and insurance beneficiaries) is also important in a cohabitating situation.

Read More