Massachusetts doesn’t recognize common law marriage no matter how long a couple has lived together. Since common law marriage isn’t recognized, there are no laws that require that property be automatically passed on to a surviving partner after the death of the first and there’s no guarantee that one partner will be in charge of making medical decisions for another.
If you’re living together in Massachusetts, it’s critical that you have your legal affairs in order in case the unthinkable happens. Here are three reasons why cohabiting couples should prepare an estate plan in 2016:
Reason #1: When You Die Your Surviving Boyfriend or Girlfriend Doesn’t Automatically Get Your Property
When a person dies without a last will and testament, Massachusetts law controls how property passes on. This is called the “law of intestate succession” or the “laws of intestacy.”
Massachusetts law says that when a person dies without a will their property will pass on to a surviving spouse. If there is no surviving spouse, then it passes to surviving children. If there are no surviving children, then to surviving parents, siblings and so on.
One person that the law does not include is a surviving boyfriend or girlfriend. So, a surviving cohabiting partner is not guaranteed to receive any property from a deceased cohabiting partner.
Massachusetts does not recognize “common law” marriage. Even if you’ve lived together for 7 years, Massachusetts doesn’t recognize the doctrine. Since there’s no common law marriage, when couples who have been living together break-up there are no real rules about how to split up their property.
When cohabiting couples break up some of the biggest challenges are dividing up the cash in the bank accounts and figuring out who has a right to the real estate.
Massachusetts does not recognize the doctrine of “common law” marriage. It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve lived together, it could be 7 years or 70 years, you cannot have a marriage under common law in Massachusetts. This is true for both heterosexual couples and same sex couples.
Only a limited number of states in the United States recognize common law marriage – nearby Rhode Island happens to be one of them. Generally, though, in those states that do recognize common law marriage it isn’t the number of years living together that matters, it’s usually the “intent” of the couple. They must intend to be considered to be married, they must act like they are married in the community, and they must live together (the length of time usually doesn’t matter).
Like many couples out there, I’m part of a blended family. You see, my life isn’t just about law. I’m living in a committed, long term relationship with my life partner. She has 2 daughters from a previous marriage and I have a daughter. So, we live as a blended family.
Now, despite the interesting title to this blog, her children DO NOT drive me crazy. Promise. I just found it to be a catchy title for this blog and an appropriate way to introduce the topics to be discussed in it.
Living in a blended family is one of the reasons that I’m so interested in focusing on estate planning for couples in second marriages and blended families because I know first hand some of the issues, and stresses, that they face everyday. But, let’s take a break from my regular blogging about legal topics and consider some of those challenges.
All across the United States people of all ages are making a choice to live together in a long-term, committed relationship. Some simply call it “living together.” Some call it “cohabiting.” Lately the term “domestic partnership” has become more popular particularly in same-sex relationships.
For all intents and purposes, many of these cohabiting couples, whether heterosexual or same-sex, act like a married couple. They share bank accounts. They buy property together. They make major decisions together. They may even be raising children together.
However, technically they are not married because they haven’t had the official marriage ceremony.
There is a common belief that if you live together for 7 years, then you are married by “common law.” This is simply not accurate. Only a few states recognize “common law marriage. And, Massachusetts is not one of them. (The closest state to us that does is Rhode Island).