According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of unmarried partners living together went from 6 million couples to 17 million in the past two decades. The two most important solutions an estate plan provides are who will take care of you if you are not able to make decisions, and what happens to your assets. With this living arrangement becoming more prevalent, it is vital that unmarried couples understand estate planning.
Unmarried Couples Do Not Have the Same Legal Rights
One of the most common mistakes unmarried couples can make is to pass up the opportunity to prepare an estate plan. Being unmarried puts not only each other’s healthcare decisions at risk but also the access, use, and ultimate distribution of assets. Other marital benefits include but are not limited to:
- Joint tax filing
- Healthcare decisions
- Homestead rights
- Inheritance rights through intestate succession
- Social Security benefits
If you plan on your partner taking care of you if you are incapacitated or if you want to provide for your partner and ensure everything is taken care of after you pass, you need an estate plan.
You Know Where Your Assets are Going
There are a number of ways that you can ensure your partner receives your assets. From titling, utilizing beneficiary designations, you can control the distributions. However, if you do not utilize these or other estate planning techniques, the assets will be distributed pursuant to intestate succession. Additionally, if you have children from the relationship or from prior relationships, there cannot be enforceable criteria to distribute the assets to them without an estate plan.
You Can Legally Make Decisions for Your Partner
One of the most critical estate planning documents anyone can have and should have is a Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions. This document designates another person to be able to make health care decisions if you are not able too. By naming your partner as Attorney-in-Fact, you can ensure that they will have the right to enforce your medical care in the event of incapacitation. There are a few more steps you should take with your partner to ensure all health care decisions are acted out as you wish. Talk with our estate planning attorneys to be sure you are making the best decision for you and your loved one.
Avoid Probate and the Statutory Distribution
You will want to ensure that your assets will avoid probate and are not subject to intestate succession, which is the court-supervised distribution of assets to the deceased legal heirs. Without an enforceable estate plan, this is the default distribution, and your partner is not a legal heir under intestate succession. Fortunately, you and your partner can avoid this outcome with a little advanced planning. There are plenty of options, such as titling, death beneficiaries, as well as individual and potentially joint trusts. Living trusts are different than a Last Will and Testament, so please read our blog “Get Smart With: Wills vs. Trusts” to learn more. Keep in mind there is no one size fits all estate plan especially for unmarried couples, so the best thing you can do is set up a consultation with one of our estate planning attorneys.
There are many reasons unmarried couples need an estate plan. To learn how you can include your significant other in your estate plan, schedule your consultation with Handelin Law.