It’s no longer strange for couples to live together without being married. Over the past 25 years, the marriage rate in the U.S. has fallen while the rate of cohabitation has increased, particularly among younger adults.

These relationships are often considered long-term and include just as much love and dedication as a marriage. But for whatever reason, actually going through the marriage process just hasn’t made sense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, but it can come with a risk couples often don’t think about. What happens if one of us passes? Will the surviving partner be taken care of?

No will means nothing is guaranteed

When a person passes, everything they own – referred to as their estate – goes through a court process. During this process, ownership of that person’s property legally changes hands. If the person who died had a will, the wishes laid out in that document will generally dictate where things end up.

But what happens if someone dies without a will? That makes a big difference.

Dying without a will is referred to as dying intestate. When this happens, New York succession laws determine how to divide the estate. What this means is, surviving loved ones don’t really have a say in what happens to that person’s money, property or treasured items.

If you’re not legally married, your partner may get nothing

New York’s succession laws depend, in large part, on whether the person who died is married. It’s essentially the first question the law asks. If the deceased had a spouse but no children, then the spouse inherits everything. If the deceased had a spouse and children, the spouse gets about half of the estate while the kids split the rest.

What happens if you do not have a spouse? Here are some outcomes:

  • No spouse, but children – the children inherit everything
  • No spouse, no children – the parents of the deceased inherit the entire estate
  • No spouse, no children, no parents – the siblings of the deceased get all the property

The law does not consider an unmarried partner in these situations, no matter how long you’ve been together or how strong the relationship is. If you aren’t legally married, the law does not view a partner as a spouse – meaning without a will, they could end up with nothing, even if that’s not what you want.

Thinking about your long-term future is difficult, especially while still young. By taking a little time now to make some important decisions, you can ensure your loved ones are cared for and receive everything they’re supposed to, regardless of your relationship’s label.