You and your partner have been together for years, maybe even decades, and simply do not wish to be married. This arrangement has been on the rise in recent years. Generally, being in a relationship without the title of marriage is pretty simple: you keep your name; you keep your ownership as separate or joint accounts or titles. Everything is pretty simple, right? Absolutely!!! Except, you are not afforded the same protections as married couples when it comes to your estate.
The Rules Of Intestate Succession
When you do not have a spouse, you absolutely need a will. If you die without a will, whether married or unmarried, your estate (your property) will go to other people in an order determined by North Dakota law. This order of how your property is distributed, when you have no will, is known as the order of intestate succession.
Let’s say Ashley Assets and Chris Cashflow have been together for twenty years, but have no interest in marriage. Ashley Assets eventually passes away while living with Chris Cashflow. Ashley Assets owned the home she and Chris Cashflow lived in, Ashley owned her vehicle, all the appliances in the home, her various bank accounts, retirement accounts, and some cash. Ashley Assets has no children, siblings, or parents. In fact, Ashley’s only blood relative is a grandfather that she has never met, let’s call him Gpa Noname. What happens when Chris Cashflow opens probate (the process to move property from Ashley Assets name to someone else’s after Ashley’s death)?
First, Chris Cashflow has to wait for someone with priority to open Ashley Asset’s probate and become a personal representative. Next, Chris Cashflow goes through the probate process to the point where he can start distributing assets. Who gets Ashley Asset’s assets? Not Chris Cashflow, that’s who.
Since Ashley Assets had no will, her assets will be given away in an order determined by the State. First, the assets go to Ashley’s spouse. She doesn’t have one. Second, the assets go to her children. Again, she has none. Third, the assets go to Ashley’s parents. Again, she has none living. The question becomes: “Who gets the property?” Does it go to her loving partner of twenty years or to a grandfather she never met? In short, Chris Cashflow gets nothing. North Dakota does not recognize a long-term relationship if it is not a legal marriage for purposes of a deceased’s property distribution.
All Hope Is Not Lost
What does a person need to do to avoid such an unfair result? Simple. Get a will. Let’s rewind the above example. Ashley Assets has the same property, the same lack of blood relatives, and the same loving relationship with Chris Cashflow. This time, however, she hires SW&L to draft a will that protects her and Chris Cashflow’s interests. Now, in conformance with Ashley Asset’s wishes, upon her death, Chris Cashflow gets to keep the house he has called home for twenty years, as well as the appliances and other property. Gpa Noname remains out of the picture. The above is an extreme example, but it occurs. The point is: unmarried couples should absolutely have a will to protect their loved ones’ rights to their property.
If you and your significant other want to discuss the various ways you can protect each other through estate planning, please give our Estate Planning Team a call at 701-297-2890 or send us an email below.