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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Unmarried Widow - Loosing a partner who was not a legal spouse.

The complexities of being an Unmarried Widow compound the loss and grieving process

In this article, we attempt to explain what it means to be an Unmarried Widow to provide understanding to those who seek it and support for those who are living the experience. If you have lost a Partner or Significant Other, your journey will be different from someone who has lost a legal spouse in some significant and profound ways. We hope you find you are not alone.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

What does it mean to be an Unmarried Widow?

What do you think of when you hear the term "widow"?

When we use the terms “widow” and “widower” we generally imagine we are talking about a married couple who have probably been together for a really long time. Often we think of an older couple, with grey hair and grandkids. Often times, this is the case but not always.

What about those of us who never married our loves, or those of us who were engaged but our partner died before a wedding took place?

The widow community tends to accept us under their wings, so to speak, and acknowledges us as one of their own. We didn’t have the legal documentation to be married, but our lives were put together and we lived as though we were already married, or we were preparing to be.

Then our love died.

Note: If you are reading this and unmarried and not yet widowed, you may want to consult a professional to secure your rights as an executor while you still have the opportunity. 

It means compounding grief with fighting for legal rights

Things can be very different for unmarried widows than for married widows when it comes to the aftermath of a death, especially if it is completely unexpected and there was no time for preparations.

Legal rights regarding the funeral preparations, relationships with their family members and finance issues come up that are vastly different than that of a married widow.

When it comes to a legal marriage, there are legal permissions and responsibilities that are in place when someone dies.

For the unwed widow, these things don’t apply.

We are not the next of kin, which means that if police are involved they will not contact us with information. Funeral directors cannot speak to us unless they have permission. Mail and titles can be changed whenever the next of kin sees fit. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something that happens around us with which we have no control.

If the next of kin chooses to pick up cars and possessions a week after the death, then they will be able and you often have no say in the matter.

Note: Now, state to state, the specific laws may vary, so this is in no way legal advice. Dealing with this from an emotional standpoint is why where we are here. 

What it was like experiencing the loss of a non-married partner

Standing on the street in front of my house, where I woke up to find my fiance dead, I was promised a chance to see him before cremation or burial. I begged and pleaded. I was convinced not to see him before they took him and that it would be better to wait until they can clean him up.

One thing about me is that at every funeral of a loved one I touch their skin if they are available for viewing. It is something I do in order to get closer to accepting that they have died and are not coming back. I did see him and I did touch his skin in the shock and panic of finding him and calling 911, however, I needed to be able to touch his face and kiss him in a more calm manner.

I didn’t get this opportunity.

His father made the choice not to allow it to happen. I was crushed yet again, experiencing a second kind of loss. I begged him to allow me to see my fiance one more time. I offered to pay for the entire service if I could have that chance, but to no avail.

I was able to get a death certificate because they are public record, so I was able to send a copy to creditors who mailed bills to the house where we both lived. That was something that helped me, because it gave me something to do. Some way to help out, but not be a pest and not have to ask permission.

Then one day I received the notice to forward mail. I was so lost and alone, and now I had no responsibility. I felt like I didn’t matter all because we weren’t married yet.

It means letting other's do things you would rather do; but you are not next of kin

So how can you handle this type of situation, where you feel as though you don’t matter and you have no control over things happening around you?

There are things that their partner may not have wanted because that’s not always something you talk with a parent about, but it is something you talk with your partner about. The best option most people have in these circumstances is to be kind and try to remain calm.

The family member making funeral arrangements for their child or sibling didn’t want to do this any more than you did. Sure, the unmarried widow is the chosen family, but the biological family has been with them their entire life and raised them to be the amazing person that you chose to love.

Letting them know if you and your partner had discussed any arrangement plans beforehand is a good idea, but you have to realize that these may not be the things that end up getting done.

Offering to help and letting them know that you would love to help is always good, because they may think it would be too hard on you, or they may be taking it all on because they think they are helping and they want you to know you know you don’t have to do it yourself.

You may not have all that you want, but honestly, your partner just died, so nothing will be ok about any of the situation that you are going through.

It means dealing with the financial fallout 

When it comes to the unmarried widow compared to the married widow, finances are different as well. There may be any version of family finances in the home before the death. One income household, two-income household, so not only does one income end if your partner was working, but unmarried widows aren’t typically entitled to survivor’s benefits from Social Security. Once a household is established and functioning on a certain income, it can be incredibly detrimental to take one away, which is why survivor’s benefits are put into place.

Things will get tight fast.

Note: Again, state to state these laws may vary, so this is in no way intended to be legal advice. 

It means dealing with housing and possibly having to move

Another consideration for the unmarried widow is housing.

Depending on the circumstances regarding the relationship, the partner may have been the one to own or lease the home, and now as the unmarried widow, you aren’t entitled to take over the residence and may have to move.

If you’re both living with the partner’s family, you may now have to leave depending on the homeowner’s wishes.

It may mean that you simply don't have the money to keep up with the current residence and you are forced to move and downsize.

It's not easy, it's not fun, but you have to keep walking forward

When our partner dies we don’t think of these complications until they come crashing in around us.

We are likely to be in a state of shock, panic, pain, and devastation.

A law doesn’t make a loving relationship, but the love we give each other does. When brought to a place in our lives where we have a partner die, we need to accept that we aren’t legally in control of any arrangements, as we aren’t the next of kin.

Offer a helping hand with the responsibilities, remember to be kind-hearted when it comes to your partner’s family, and remember that finance issues will come up and they are likely to be different than those of a married widow.

There are many resources available to you, but the best if probably found inside a support group of other widows. Find a Facebook Group (see our resources page) or a local group. Ask other widows who have been down this road. In some extreme cases, seek the help of an attorney who can protect you while you walk through this process.


Thank you for spending time with us today.

We hope this helps you either process your own grief or understand those in your life going through it. Please check out our Resources page for more articles and some links to the tools we've found helpful. For more about who we are, click About Us.

Adrianne and Darrell, fellow Widows/Widowers