Last updated: 10/22/2019
Unmarried couples don't generally have rights to their partner's property. This means if a couple splits up or if one of them dies, they won't be entitled to any of their partner's property. This is true unless the couple specifically agreed to have joint ownership of their property, have wills giving the property to their partner, or are in a state-recognized common law marriage.
You can have joint ownership rights to property with your boyfriend/girlfriend if you acquire the property either as tenants-in-common or joint tenants.
Tenants-in-common: If an unmarried couple owns property as tenants-in-common, then each couple will have a share equal to the amount they contributed.
You should note that if your partner dies, you will only retain your share of the property. Your partner's share will be part of their estate and will be distributed according to the state laws, or the person's will.
Joint Tenants: Unlike tenants-in-common, joint tenancy will allow you to get all of the property in the event of the other tenant's death. Here, again unlike a tenancy in common, both you and your partner will have equal shares of the property regardless of your initial contribution.
Read our article on the differences between joint tenancy and tenancy in common to learn more.
It depends. You can retain property if your partner left a will and designated you as a beneficiary. A will is a binding legal document where an individual declares their wishes on how they would like to distribute their property upon their death.
If you hold each other as a married couple, intend to get married, and live together for a specified time, the law may recognize you as being in a common law marriage. If your state recognizes a common law marriage and you fulfill the requirements, then you will have the same rights as if you were legally married to that person.
If you are in such a situation and your common-law spouse dies, then you may be able to claim inheritance depending on the laws your state follows.
Having a plan to protect your property is very important, especially for unmarried couples. If you need help with retaining your property rights or want to know more about what your rights are, you should speak to an experienced family law attorney for assistance.