Life Partner Passed... Now What?

Dear Len & Rosie,

I lost my life partner two weeks ago. He was 78. I am 65. We lived together for three years but we weren’t married and didn’t register as domestic partners. He had a trust created in 2010 that leaves everything to his daughter. I want to know if I have any legal rights and can share the trust with his daughter. He owned a valuable home and many investments.


Dear Jennifer,

We are sorry to say that you really don't have any rights here. If you were married, or if you had registered as domestic partners with the California Secretary of State, then you would be entitled to all of the community property, if any, and half of the separate property, assuming he had only the one daughter.

In your case, since you weren’t married and you were not registered domestic partners, the only way you can inherit is if he had amended his trust to leave something to you. There’s no such thing as common law marriage in California. Living with someone, even for decades, doesn’t give you the rights of a spouse.

The only potential claim you may have is if he had promised to leave you something in return for your care and companionship. This is called a contract to make a will, or a contract to devise property. However, even if he made such promises to you, these cases are difficult to prove, because your testimony would necessarily be self-serving and would be painted as such by the daughter’s attorney. You would need other witnesses or, better yet, documentary evidence to prove your case. Don’t get your hopes up.

Unless you have some very good facts showing that he owes you an inheritance, your best bet is to cooperate with his daughter. If you are on good terms with her, she may be generous enough to recognize the closeness of your relationship with her father and make some provision for you. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need, but don’t expect her to give you part of the home. If she gives you more than a few months to move out, you will be luckier than most.

So what’s the lesson here? In any long term committed relationship, it’s a good idea to talk to your partner about what you each of you will need upon the other’s death. Clearly, hardly anyone ever does this when they are young, but new couples of retirement age need to face the prospect of one of them dying, because sooner or later it’s going to happen. If you had this discussion with your partner, then maybe he would have updated his estate plan to provide for you. 

Len & Rosie