Inheritance rights without a will?

Answers to Your Real-life Legal Problems

Dear Yetta:

My partner and I have been together for a little over three years. We are very happy, although we don’t have much. We live together in her apartment, which is rent stabilized, and we consider the furniture, jewelry and other assets in the apartment ours jointly. The problem is that my partner’s family doesn’t accept our relationship. I am worried that if anything happens they will be able to come in and take everything we own. Neither of us has drafted a will because we don’t have much in terms of assets. What should I do to protect myself?

Not Rich, But Happy

Dear Happy,

Unfortunately, the situation you describe is all too common. As a same-sex couple, you are not afforded the same inheritance rights under New York law as a married couple is, and you could end up battling your partner’s family if your partner passes away. They may have the right to come in and take everything—if you’re not careful.

A will is your best protection in this situation. By having valid estate-planning documents, you can identify the individuals whom you want to inherit your belongings, whether they’re small items like jewelry or assets like separate bank accounts and real property. A will also allows you to appoint an Executor to handle your estate after you’re gone.

Make sure the will is properly drafted and executed—an Internet template probably won’t stand up in court. No matter how much or how little you have, an executed will is your best bet against someone taking what you want your partner to have.

The good news: New York courts have interpreted domestic partners or cohabiting couples as “family members,” thereby allowing the surviving partner to take over the deceased partners’ rent stabilized lease. Even if you’re not on the lease now, you may have the right to succeed as owner of the rent stabilized renewal lease. For extra protection, your partner can leave her interests in the apartment as a bequest in her will.

Good luck!


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*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney.

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