Dear Liz: A close friend recently lost her partner of many decades. The partner left no will or trust or anything in writing. The partner owned many properties and had a huge IRA and lots of money in the bank, but all in the partner’s name alone. My friend asked an estate lawyer and the lawyer said she had no legal right to anything, even the home she has lived in for many years. Can anything be done?
Answer: The lawyer is probably correct. Without estate documents, beneficiary designations or some kind of written agreement, unmarried partners typically can’t inherit, said Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach.
But your friend should consider talking to a family law attorney to see if she has any recourse, Sawday said.
In California, for example, she may be able to make a “Marvin” claim against the estate. (Marvin claims stem from a 1976 California Supreme Court case between Michelle and Lee Marvin, which established that unwed partners could sue each other over property divisions after a relationship ended.)
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