End-of-Life Planning for Unmarried Cohabitants and Non-Traditional Families in Connecticut

Thinking about and planning for your eventual death can be a difficult and uncomfortable experience for many people. However, if you do not plan for the inevitable, archaic state laws and case precedent may result in your property not ending up with your chosen loved ones. This is especially true for those in non-traditional families and relationships, such as unmarried cohabitants.

As cohabiting unmarried partners get older and wealthier, the laws that apply to those who die without a will take on more and more importance. Larger estates, potentially including real property owned in one partner’s name, comingled personal property, and other high-value assets, may be funneled to other individuals outside the unmarried partnership, subverting the expressed wishes of the deceased partner.

The only way to guarantee that your wishes are respected after your passing is by drafting a will, a document that your Barton Gilman LLP estate planning attorney can work with you to create. However, in the event that you do pass away without a will in Connecticut, here are some details on how your property may be handled.

Current State of Connecticut’s Inheritance Laws

While a full review of Connecticut’s inheritance laws is beyond the scope of this article, in general, Connecticut prioritizes the immediate nuclear family, including surviving spouses, children, parents, and siblings. Specifically, the first priority is to take care of a surviving spouse, awarding him or her:

  • If there are no surviving children or parents, the entire estate;
  • If there are no surviving children, but surviving parents, the first $100,000.00 plus three-quarters of the rest of the estate;
  • If there are surviving children who are the children of the surviving spouse, the first $100,000.00 plus one-half of the rest of the estate; and
  • If there are surviving children who are not the children of the surviving spouse, one-half of the estate

If there is no surviving spouse but there are surviving children, Connecticut’s inheritance laws provide for those children, granting them the estate in its entirety. The estate then proceeds to the surviving parents, siblings, and stepchildren before finally allowing the property to “escheat,” or return, to the state as abandoned property.

Nowhere in Connecticut’s inheritance laws is any provision made for a cohabiting unmarried partner. Nor does Connecticut recognize common law marriage of long-term cohabiting partners. In other words, without a will, your property would entirely skip your surviving cohabiting partner and, if you have no other surviving family, could ultimately become the State of Connecticut’s property. While there are a few Connecticut cases that have addressed these situations and found that implicit or explicit agreements made between cohabiting unmarried partners for the provision of some form of compensation to a surviving partner after death may be honored, these decisions are often issued only after extensive and expensive litigation.

In order to avoid the complications of Connecticut’s inheritance laws, as well as costly and unpredictable litigation, unmarried cohabiting partners should strongly consider drafting wills that detail their estate planning wishes. The estate planning attorneys at Barton Gilman LLP can help give you peace of mind that your last wishes will be honored and your loved ones will be appropriately provided for.

For more information about this article or estate planning in other non-traditional families, please contact Vincent J. Averaimo, Thomas A. Costello, or your Barton Gilman LLP estate planning attorney.