The consideration of estate matters in New York always involves a number of variables. New York, as well as the country as a whole, is comprised of a diversity of personal relationships controlled by numerous laws that are evolving all of the time. A recent article written by Sarah O’Brien entitled “If you live with your partner and are unmarried, this is what happens when you die,” which appeared at CNBC.com on February 27, 2020, highlights just one of many problematic areas of personal concern.
In New York, as elsewhere, the formalization of a partnership through marriage creates certain spousal rights that have a direct impact on inheritance. The New York Probate Lawyer Blog has published numerous posts talking about these matters. For example, if a person dies intestate without a Last Will, his administration estate is, according to estate laws, (Estates Powers and Trusts Law section 4-1.1), going to be distributed to his next of kin. An unmarried partner is not included in this class. As an estate lawyer, I have seen many situations where upon the death of an unmarried partner, the surviving partner cannot share in the estate despite the longevity of the relationship.
Ms. O’Brien’s article discusses these types of issues. Of course, there are some relatively simple solutions which require some thought and time and effort to complete. First and foremost, each partner should complete a Last Will which names the other as primary beneficiary and executor. It is also important to designate alternate beneficiaries and fiduciaries so that the creator’s intentions and desires can be fully carried out. Living Trusts can also serve the purpose of having a valid document delineating the individuals who are to receive benefits upon death.