In today's society, an increasing number of couples are choosing to forgo marriage and build a life together without the traditional legal framework. While this can work well for many couples, there are significant legal implications to consider if one partner passes away.

Unlike married couples, unmarried partners do not have automatic legal protections in the event of death, leaving the surviving partner vulnerable to financial and legal challenges.

In this article, we will delve into what happens to a surviving partner if a couple is not married, exploring issues related to inheritance, property rights, healthcare decision-making, and social security benefits. We will also provide guidance on the steps that unmarried partners can take to protect themselves and their interests in the event of the unexpected.

What Happens To A Surviving Partner If A Couple Is Not Married in Colorado:

In Colorado, as in many states, unmarried couples who live together and share assets may face unique legal challenges in the event of one partner's death. Without the legal protections afforded to married couples, surviving partners may find themselves in a difficult position.

Below are some of the factors that may affect a surviving partner and their rights in Colorado.

Inheritance Rights:

When an unmarried partner passes away without a will, Colorado state law dictates that their property will be distributed to their heirs according to the state's intestacy laws.

This means that the surviving partner may not have automatic rights to inherit the deceased partner's property, even if they have shared it with their partner during their relationship.

Therefore, unmarried couples must have a will in place to ensure their wishes are respected, and their assets are distributed as they see fit.

Property Rights:

Without a formal agreement, unmarried partners may face challenges in proving ownership of the property they have shared. In Colorado, the law recognizes the concept of "common law marriage," which may apply if the couple has lived together for a certain period of time and held themselves out as married.

However, if common law marriage does not apply, the surviving partner may need to go through a lengthy and costly legal process to establish their rights to shared property.

Healthcare Decision-Making:

Unmarried partners may also face challenges when it comes to healthcare decision-making. Without a healthcare power of attorney, the surviving partner may not have the legal authority to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner. This can be particularly problematic if the partner is incapacitated or unable to communicate their wishes.

Social Security Benefits:

Married couples are entitled to certain social security benefits, including survivor benefits, which are not available to unmarried couples. This means that the surviving partner may not have access to the same financial support as a married partner.


An unmarried relationship may also face tax implications, particularly if they jointly own property or assets. In Colorado, property taxes may be reassessed if one partner dies, which can lead to higher tax bills for the surviving partner.

What Steps Can Unmarried Partners Take to Protect Themselves in Colorado?

Unmarried partners in Colorado who choose not to get married face several legal and financial challenges, particularly in the event of the unexpected. Fortunately, there are several steps that unmarried partners can take to protect themselves and their interests.

Some of them include the following:

Creating a Will:

Unmarried couples can protect themselves and their assets by creating a will, which allows them to name their partner as the beneficiary of specific property and bank accounts.

It is especially important for couples in a legally recognized relationship or domestic partnership to create an estate plan to ensure that their wishes are followed in the event of one partner's death. Seeking legal guidance from an estate planning attorney can help unmarried couples navigate their options for protecting themselves and their interests.

Designating Beneficiaries:

It is important to designate beneficiaries for important financial accounts, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies. This can ensure that assets are distributed to the intended individual(s) and prevent legal challenges from other family members.

Establishing Power of Attorney:

Power of attorney is a legal document that designates an individual to make financial and medical decisions on one's behalf if they become incapacitated. It is important to establish power of attorney to ensure that one's wishes are carried out in the event of incapacity.

Creating Advance Directives:

Advance directives are legal documents that outline one's wishes for medical treatment in the event of incapacity. These documents can include a living will and medical power of attorney.

By creating advance directives, an unmarried couple can ensure that their wishes for medical treatment are known and respected. Unlike a civil partnership or marriage, advance directives allow each partner to designate someone to make medical decisions on their behalf.

Seeking Legal Advice:

It is important to seek legal advice from a knowledgeable attorney who can provide guidance on the legal implications of being an unmarried partner in Colorado. An attorney can review and draft legal documents, provide advice on legal rights and responsibilities, and help navigate legal challenges.


Can unmarried couples collect Social Security in Colorado?

Under Colorado law, unmarried partners are not eligible to collect spousal and survivor benefits from Social Security. However, there are other legal and financial steps that couples can take to protect each other.

What are civil union and domestic partnerships?

Civil unions and domestic partnerships are legal agreements that provide some of the same benefits and responsibilities as marriage. They are often used by couples who are not allowed to marry due to legal or cultural reasons or who choose not to marry for personal reasons.

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