Question 1: My girlfriend/boyfriend and I have been living together for years. Do we automatically inherit from one another if one of us should die?
Answer: No. While the law grants married couples the right to automatically inherit from one another, there is no such automatic right for unmarried couples regardless of how long you’ve been living together. For cohabiting couples it’s important to create an estate plan that will provide for your partner in the event you die, if that is what you want.
Question 2: If I get sick, does my girlfriend/boyfriend have the right to tell my doctors what I want?
Answer: It is up to a court to determine who makes your medical decisions for you in the event you should become incapacitated. Usually, the court will declare that a parent or close family member has the legal authority to do this, not your girlfriend or boyfriend. You can, however, grant your partner this right by creating certain estate planning documents such as a health care power of attorney.
Question 3: What about common law couples?
Answer: The phrase “common law” couple is widely misused. There are only a small minority of states that allow for common-law marriages, and a couple that is married through common law is a legally married couple. However, there is no time limit that automatically makes a couple common-law married. You have to meet very specific criteria to be a common-law couple, and the vast majority of cohabitating couples do not qualify.