The State of Nevada does not recognize “common law” marriages, which can take place in some states if a couple has lived together for an extended period of time without a civil or ecclesiastical ceremony. However, an increasing number of unmarried senior couples are cohabiting in long-term relationships. Even among older couples, traditional social and religious mores regarding such arrangements are losing ground to financial concerns.
Widows and widowers can sometimes lose all or part of their survivor’s benefits or social security entitlements when they remarry. An inheritance from a deceased spouse can be forfeited if the will or trust so provides. Often, a couple will live together as roommates simply to pool their limited incomes and reduce living expenses. Also, when a remarriage occurs, the spouses become legally obligated for the support and care of one another, and their respective assets can sometimes become liable for the other’s debts.
However, there can be significant legal complications for such cohabiting couples, especially if they decide to end the relationship. What happens to any property which was acquired together? The divorce courts are not available to resolve such matters. If one of them dies without a will or trust, the surviving partner has no right of inheritance regardless of their verbal commitments. If one is killed in a car accident, the other one has no right to sue the negligent driver as a spouse could do.
Unmarried couples would be wise to consider having an attorney prepare a property rights agreement and to make sure their state planning documents express their intentions regarding one another. There is also the opportunity to register with the State as domestic partners to acquire the same legal rights and obligations as married persons, if desired. Consult with an experienced attorney to determine the best course of action.
Bruce L. Woodbury is an attorney with the law firm of Jolley Urga Wirth Woodbury & Standish. The firm has offices in Boulder City and Las Vegas. To contact Bruce, call him at 293-3674 or 699-7500, or visit his website at www.juwws.com.