By Betsy Poggi, Esq.
A will may not be necessary, depending on one’s assets and how they are titled, but there is no question that without one, a surviving partner of an unmarried couple will not inherit in Pennsylvania under the Commonwealth’s current intestate laws, nor will he or she be the first in line to be appointed administrator of the estate.
You can still inherit those assets where he or she named you as beneficiary (on a bank or brokerage account, retirement account, or insurance product, for example) or through joint ownership with rights of survivorship (on a bank or brokerage account or real estate, for example).
Even if your partner does not own any assets in his or her name alone, it may still be important to have a will because he or she may want to appoint you and/or others as beneficiary of his or her estate just in case something is payable to the estate (e.g., a refund check, beneficiary of a family member’s estate, that long lost stock certificate Grandma gave on his or her 18th birthday) and appoint a person to be responsible for his or her estate (i.e. executor). Moreover, what if you predecease your partner or you die together?
Joint ownership and beneficiary designations aside, a will is important in the event minor children are involved. In the event of a parent’s death, the remaining legal or natural guardian (natural or adoptive parent) will continue as the parent of the minor child, but should any issues arise with that person (he or she is incapacitated or also no longer living, for example), the courts will look to the intentions in a will of the deceased parent(s) when appointing the guardian of the person for the minor child. In an unmarried couple circumstance, this may be reason alone to have a will because the courts are likely to look to next of kin first before nonfamily members. For this reason, second parent adoptions are becoming more popular in Pennsylvania among gay couples.
There is certainly no downside to having a will (assuming it is reviewed over time and reflects one’s current intentions) and it may be necessary should a partner want to name you as a beneficiary of his or her estate, executor, and guardian of any minor children.