Question: I have been living with my boyfriend for the last 3 years in a house owned by a trust of which he was a beneficiary. He passed away unexpectedly. Now, his brother, with whom he did not get along and with whom I’ve never had any relationship, wants me out. Immediately. I just want some time to grieve and find a new place to live. Do I have any right to stay in my home of the last 3 years? At least for a little while?

Thank you,

Answer: I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Sarah. Losing a partner is always difficult, but when it’s unexpected, it’s harder still.

I hate to be the bearer of additional bad news during what is already an emotionally difficult time, but unfortunately, unless you are a beneficiary of the trust that holds the house, you probably don’t have a leg to stand on with regard to any effort to stay there, even for a short time. The trust agreement dictates what happens to it now, and the trustee is required to manage it in the best interest of the trust beneficiaries. In fact, a pretty good argument could be made that allowing you to stay there would be a breach of his fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries.

This is a long shot, but you might want to ask your boyfriend’s brother to confirm that he is the trustee of the trust that holds the house. If he’s not, he doesn’t have any authority to dictate what happens to it. It’s up to the trustee to follow the trust instructions on behalf of the trust beneficiaries. Even if the trustee is somebody else, that person is probably still going to want you out of the house relatively soon. But maybe he or she will be more amenable to providing you at least a little bit of time to pull yourself together and figure out a new arrangement than your boyfriend’s brother has been.

One other suggestion would be to offer to pay fair market rent to the trustee for the time that you need to stay there. The trustee wouldn’t be under any obligation to accept that offer, but it would give him a way to let you stay there without risking a breach of fiduciary duty claim from one of the beneficiaries.

If you are in a relationship with someone to whom you are not married but who you depend upon financially, it is critical that you be aware of the problems that you might face if one of you passes away unexpectedly or becomes disabled. There are very few protections in the law for unmarried adults. Give me a call to discuss the risks that you face and the ways that you might be able to mitigate them.