Will I Be Left With Nothing When My Partner of 50 Years Dies?

Dear Penny,

I will have been with my partner for 50 years in July, but we’re not legally married. Can I receive his retirement when he dies? I’m very worried I’ll be on the street after taking care of him all these years . What advice can you give me?


Dear Lost,

Lots of people will tell you that marriage is just a piece of paper. But that’s simply not true. Even if a couple is perfectly happy without that marital contract, there’s no getting around the fact that spouses are afforded a lot of benefits that aren’t t available to long-term unmarried partners. These protections often become apparent at life’s worst moments, like when one person dies or becomes disabled, or the couple splits.

Before I go any further, I want to address the minuscule possibility that you’re in a common-law marriage. Couples in a common-law marriage have many of the same rights as couples who are traditionally married. For a common-law marriage to be valid, a couple needs to live together in a state that recognizes common-law marriage — and there are currently fewer than a dozen — and present themselves as a married couple. The lines are quite hazy, and this is difficult to prove in court. So because few couples actually have a common-law marriage, I’m answering your letter assuming that you’re not in one. But if you think you might meet the criteria, it’s worth consulting with an attorney about your rights.

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