Unmarried Relationships in Massachusetts

If you’re part of the Massachusetts living together community and are living with your significant other, whether in a hetero or same-sex relationship, it’s crucial to get legal assistance to protect your assets, desires, and family.   As a lawyer who is part of a blended family, I understand the challenges that you may be facing, as well as your unique situation.  Without proper legal planning, you (and potentially your family) may be at a significant risk in many situations.

What You Should Know About Your Legal Rights if You Are Not Married to Your Partner

If you’re not married to your partner in Massachusetts, here are a few important facts to know:

  • Massachusetts does not recognize common-law marriage.

Historically, many states recognized common-law marriage, so that a couple who lived together and held themselves out as husband and wife would be deemed to be legally married after a certain period of time, even though they never “officially” married.

Most states, including Massachusetts, do not recognize common-law marriage.  So couples who are living together simply don’t have the same protections under the law that married people do. As a result, if you are cohabitating and wish to protect your rights, you should understand that many important rights can only be protected through estate planning (a few of these rights are discussed below).  Other rights can only be gained through marriage.

  • If you’re not married, there are a number of rights that you won’t get under the law.

Unlike their married counterparts, cohabiting couples have absolutely no legal right to the estate of the other partner when that partner dies without an estate plan.  We’ve seen so many instances where the surviving partner of an unmarried couple is “left out in the cold” when the other partner suddenly dies without naming them in an estate plan. The laws of the Commonwealth don’t recognize common law marriage, so when a partner dies without any estate plan in place, the law dictates that all of the deceased’s property will go to their surviving blood relatives (children, siblings, parents, etc) not to the surviving partner.  As harsh as this result may seem, that’s the law in Massachusetts.

There are also other rights that cohabiting partners simply don’t have that their married counterparts do.  If you break up after a long cohabiting relationship, you have no automatic rights to a division of the relationship assets of the other.  “Alimony” (also known as “spousal support”) is only available to married couples in Massachusetts. If you are cohabiting and then break up, there’s no guaranty that you’ll share in the property you’ve worked hard to acquire during the relationship.

Also, government entitlements, particularly those concerning social security survivor benefits, are not available to the survivor in cohabitation agreements.  When I meet with you and understand your circumstances, we can discuss these matters if you wish.

  • There are ways to legally protect many of your interests. 

We help clients understand and protect their interests concerning a number of important interests, including addressing the following questions: 

  • Do you want to make sure that your partner can visit you in the hospital and make decisions on your behalf if you are hospitalized and cannot communicate your wishes?
  • Who do you want to inherit your assets if you do not have a will or an estate plan? (Under Massachusetts law, it will not be your partner.)
  • Who will be entitled to make funeral arrangements if your partner dies?
  • What will happen to your assets if you decide to separate from your partner?

If you’re not married, there will be many decisions and rights that you are not entitled to under the law.  In fact, the law may actually work against your interests.

Fortunately, proper estate planning can be used to help you secure the rights that will be important to you and your family.

We can help. 

Through Massachusetts health care proxies, durable powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents, we can create a plan that will not only take care of the final disposition of your assets, but also protect you, your partner and your family both before and after death.

Call us for our Free Family Law Planning session to learn how we can help.

More Information

Estate Planning for Cohabiting Couples

Second Marriage Estate Planning

Living Together Cohabitation Agreements


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