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People in a relationship who live together but are not legally married to one another are known as cohabitants. In some states, couples who have been together for a certain amount of time may be considered to be in a common law marriage. This is a marriage that’s legally recognized, even though the people in question have not had a marriage ceremony or obtained a marriage license.

As of this writing, the state of Maryland does not designate partners who live together as being married under common law. People living in the state cannot be recognized under that designation. The exception to the rule is that the state will allow people who entered into common law marriages outside of the state to be joined together under that title.

There are many reasons why couples choose to get married or not. Age, health conditions, tax status and family are some of the contributing factors. There are certain advantages and disadvantages that unmarried couples have. They also have certain rights, which are detailed below:

Inheritance and Wills

Wills can be written so that property can be given to an unmarried person’s partner. People can change their wills at any time. Gifts can also be taken away if necessary.

If a person in an unmarried couple passes away without a will, their partner will not automatically receive any of that person’s belongings. Instead, the assets will be disbursed amongst their legally recognized relatives.

A Letter of Instruction may be created that specifies what will happen to any items not included in a person’s will. Although such letters are not legally binding, they can identify how the decedent’s personal affairs should be handled. The Letter of Instructions may provide details as to where the person’s retirement accounts or bank account paperwork are located, instructions for their funeral arrangements and names and contact information for family members and friends that should be informed of the death.


Property rights for unmarried couples are based on whose name those assets are in. For example, if a car title is under one person’s name, that is the only person who has legal rights to that vehicle upon the decision to separate. Homeownership will be viewed according to the name on the deed.

Unmarried partners can opt for ownership of property as tenants in common or joint tenants. Tenants in common can own property together. However, there are no survivorship rights like there are for items that are owned as joint tenants. The state of Maryland currently assumes that joint tenancy does not exist for nonmarried partners. Deeds, contracts and other respective agreements must contain language that can confirm that joint tenancy ownership is required in those instances.


As of this writing, unmarried couples in the state of Maryland cannot file joint tax returns. They will need to file individually each year. There may be certain advantages and disadvantages to filing individually instead of jointly, which can depend on a person’s assets, income and other attributes.

Death Benefits

Death benefits may be available to surviving partners upon the event of their cohabitant’s death. The exact amount of monetary compensation will depend on the particular type of benefit. Unmarried couples may qualify for death benefits from insurance, workers’ compensation, and certain federal laws.

An unmarried person may be added if a household exclusion clause exists in their partner’s automobile insurance policy. That language may absolve the insurance company from any liability that would normally be owed to the household or family members for injuries that were caused by the person who was covered under that policy. Unmarried people who reside in a family setting, have meals with other people in the household, place personal items in a storage facility and leave their former home are known to be residing relatives according to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Workers’ compensation benefits may be provided to survivors of a person who passed away due to an injury suffered in the workplace. Dependency is the primary attribute evaluated under the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Act. In this situation, a dependent is viewed as someone who was given full or partial necessities that are basic to human life by the employee when the workplace injury occurred.

Unmarried cohabitants can file for dependency benefits, as long as they can prove their dependency on the person who passed away at the time of the injury in some form. This status can be reviewed by the Maryland Workers’ Compensation Commission.

Survivors of people who died in workplace accidents can ask for benefits in two ways. One option involves incidents that result in the worker’s death. The death must have happened within at least seven years from the work-related injury that could be compensated in some way. Unmarried partners may receive death benefits if they can prove that they depended on that person financially at the time.

Another alternative is asking for partial or complete permanent disability compensation. That compensation cannot have been fully paid before the workplace injury that resulted in their partner’s death. The unmarried partner must have been clearly identified as the recipient of that money in the decedent’s will before it can be awarded. Inheritance rights may apply to any children that the unmarried couple had together.

There are certain federal laws that grant benefits to surviving partners of cohabitants. The Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and the Death on the High Seas Act are just a few. However, the language in some of these statutes can be subject to interpretation. Many of them contain information about widows, widowers and surviving spouses. Courts have used their own discretion to determine whether unmarried partners would be able to receive death benefits in those cases.

Social Security

The Social Security Act doesn’t allow unmarried cohabitants to receive any Social Security death benefits. Exceptions may be made if the person resided in another state that recognizes common law marriage at the time the benefit request was made. Maryland however does not recognize common law marriages at this time. Surviving cohabitants of lesbian or gay couples are not qualified to receive Social Security death benefits from their deceased partner either at this time.


Coverage and benefits will depend on the language that’s included in the specific insurance contract. If a contract states that only spouses are covered and can receive benefits, then unmarried cohabitants’ partners will be excluded. If a policy allows members of the family or household to be covered, then an unmarried cohabitant may be eligible for benefits or coverage.

If you have questions or concerns about your rights as an unmarried couple, contact us today to set up a consultation. Our trained professionals will sit down with you, listen to your concerns and provide invaluable assistance and advice. We want to get you on the right path so that you can get back to enjoying a happy, healthy, stress-free life.