The English author John Lyly once said, “Marriages are made in heaven and consummated on Earth.” Indeed, marriage has long been a two-sided coin. On the one side are the social and emotional aspects of the institution, the heavenly “joy and wonder” of marriage. On the other are the legal implications, the earthly rights and privileges the law grants to married couples.
After exchanging wedding bands, many couples assume that they have cemented their relationship with every benefit and privilege the law has to offer. Marriage does confer many essential rights—more than a thousand, by one count. But there are several legal protections a marriage license simply does not provide. As a consequence, couples who have tied the knot should take additional steps to ensure that they are prepared for the uncertainties of life, including the death or disability of a spouse.
Whether they are gay or straight, most couples assume that if one of them died, the surviving spouse would inherit everything left behind—the car, the house, the bank accounts, and any jewelry, furniture, or other personal property. That assumption would be wrong.