Couple in late twenties or early thirties have recently purchased a New York City loft and done extensive renovations. One partner is a money manager, the other is a potter. Most of the income is likely provided by the money manager, who is murdered and dies on the spot.
Unmarried, substantial assets, surviving partner without resources to purchase or maintain partner’s assets on her own.
In the supremely romantic movie “Ghost,” Sam Wheat and Molly Jensen are a visibly loving couple who have just moved into a New York City loft in a not-yet-gentrified area. We can surmise that they have purchased it, rather than rented, based on the extensive interior renovations they are doing themselves. Because we know that Sam works in a money management or investment firm handling exceptionally large amounts of money, and that Molly is a potter who is currently spending the bulk of her time working on their new loft, we can guess that Sam makes a fair amount of money and is either the sole or primary income for the couple. Since they have purchased and are working on the loft together, we can guess that they intend to be permanent partners, despite not having married.
Marriage gives each partner to the union certain legal rights to property held or acquired during the marriage. This protects partners whose cash earning, or cash resources are unequal, so that they can continue to have a means to provide for their needs until adjustments to being single can be made.
But when partners are unmarried, even if they intend to share their economic resources as well as their lives, the law does not recognize that partnership without other documents that acknowledge and create it. This means things like a will, or joint title to property, or payable on death and beneficiary designations on accounts are essential.
Here’s what would have happened if Sam and Molly did not do any sort of planning: If the loft was titled in Sam’s name alone because it was purchased with Sam’s money or based on his income, and he left no will, then the loft would legally pass to either his parents, any children he had with a previous partner, or his siblings. Molly would lose her home. Even if Sam had put Molly’s name on the deed as a joint owner with right of survivorship, if he failed to leave her any of his cash accounts in a will or with beneficiary designations, then she would have had to sell the loft for lack of money to pay the mortgage, taxes, and insurance.
Similarly, if Sam and Molly were both on the title to the loft and both owners of the cash accounts, unless the form of ownership specifically included a right of survivorship, then Molly would likely only own one half of everything after Sam’s death with his half going, again, to the parents, kids, or siblings.
Imagine Molly’s state when she realized Sam is present and wants to inhabit Oda Mae’s body so he can feel her again – instead of the iconic, bittersweet, love scene we all swoon over, most probably Molly would have been whipping his sorry ass for leaving her homeless and without immediate means to take care of herself. That would have been a very different movie.
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