What really happens when your live in partner dies

By Faeza
03 March 2017

When Nosipho Madlala’s* live-in boyfriend Zamani Mbombo* of 10 years suddenly passed away in a car accident, she found herself in a state of confusion. Although the two sweethearts were together for years, they were not legally married.

On top of her bereavement, Nosipho found herself not knowing where she stood culturally and legally.


An increasing number of young couples are choosing to live together without being married. They may have no intention of marrying at all, or they may be living together

for a while before getting married.

Living together has become a more common arrangement for couples who want to share expenses. Nthabiseng Monareng, Move!’s resident lawyer and expert in family

law, says there is nothing wrong with a vat ‘n sit as long as both parties have an arrangement of how they are going to do this.

She adds that cohabitation, also referred to as a common law marriage, living together or a domestic partnership is not recognised as a legal relationship by the South African law. There is, therefore, no law that regulates the rights of parties in a cohabitation relationship.

“A couple can live together for many years and have children together, but it does not mean they are automatically married. This means that if one partner passes away, the other partner doesn't have the same protection a married person has,” she warns.


In most cases, partners share valuable assets such as a house, a car and furniture. The remaining partner often has to deal with relatives who believe that everything that was

bought during that relationship belonged to the deceased.

“This is one of the challenging scenarios. The remaining partner has to prove that they both bought the assets. If not, then the family members will take over because they

feel that they have the right to claim the assets. But the family too has to provide a statement proving that the assets belonged to their deceased child,” says Nthabiseng, adding that situations like these cause tension between families.


Nthabiseng says in a vat ‘n sit situation, it's important for both parties to have a will that stipulates what goes to who in the case of death. She says unlike in a marriage, which is regulated by specific laws that protect the individuals in the relationship, cohabitation offers no such comfort.

“When a cohabitant dies without a valid will, their partner has no right to inherit under the Interstate Succession Act,” she says, adding that “The trauma of losing a loved one can affect the relationship between the families.”

* Not their real names