Who gets the house when an unmarried partner dies?

When a spouse dies, the family home goes to the other spouse in most cases. But what happens when a partner dies who was not married, even if they have been in a committed relationship in Arizona for years?

The answer depends on the way that the property was owned. If the person who died owned it, then it may come down to the will. He or she can leave the house to the partner in the will, and all is generally taken care of, expect in rare cases where another family member—like a child—may challenge the will.

If joint tenancy was used, that means both partners bought the home together and each owned 50 percent of it. Though it is far from romantic, this is similar to the way two partners may own a business. With joint tenancy, the death of either party means 100 percent ownership shifts to the surviving party.

If the partners were considered tenants-in-common, it also comes back to the will. This term is often used when ownership is not split 50/50. For instance, one partner may own 70 percent while the other owns just 30. If either party dies, the percentage owned is distributed through the will as part of the estate. Of course, it could be left to the surviving partner, but it could also be given to someone else.

If you are not married but you do own property with your partner, the laws are more complex than they are for married couples, and you need to be very aware of your rights should either of you pass away.

Source: FIndLaw, "Unmarried Couples and Property - Basics," accessed Nov. 20, 2015

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