We all know, it is very common to find people today who live together but are not married. By married, we mean a legally recognized union between two or more persons. Such a union gives certain legal entitlements to both partners in the marriage. But some unmarried couples living in cohabitation forget the fact that they are not legally joined and so do not possess certain rights to each other’s property. For instance, you cannot automatically inherit your unmarried partner’s property when they die.
You possibly are already sharing the same properties and may even have kids together. It could be that you’re just not ready for marriage yet but are seriously committed to each other. But the thing is, life can throw you ugly surprises at any time. And for this reason, estate planning becomes highly essential for unmarried couples.
Estate planning is an advantageous legal provision that allows you to decide who can stand in your stead to make important decisions for you should you become incapacitated, who to manage your properties and finances, and ultimately who can inherit your property when you die. Estate planning is important for both married and unmarried couples. But since married couples can enjoy some entitlements like default heirship, it is crucial to carry out estate planning if you desire your unmarried partner to have a legal claim to your estate at all.
Essential estate planning tips for unmarried couples
- Establish a will and/or trust
In most states, only your legally married spouse and your kids can inherit your properties if you fail to create a will or trust. The court will be the one to decide how your estate will be divided between your spouse and children in a legal process known as probate. Your unmarried partner would not be considered at all. In order to leave assets for him or her, you have to draft a will or trust and name your partner as your beneficiary. It is important you contact an estate planning attorney near you to help you draft your will and trust.
- Establish a power of attorney
Accidents do happen and either of you can become incapacitated—that is, unable to run your own affairs because you are in a critical condition. When one married spouse becomes incapacitated, the other healthy one can make healthcare and financial decisions on their behalf; this is not so for unmarried couples.
But when you create a financial and healthcare power of attorney and name your partner as your attorney-in-fact, then they will have the legal authority to make decisions and look after your affairs in your stead.
- Avoid probate by owning property in joint tenancy
As have been said, your estate will pass through probate when you die before it can be inherited. Even though you have a will, the property will still go through probate. This process is often complex and time-consuming in most states, and it is better to avoid it altogether. You can do this by creating a trust and naming your partner as the beneficiary. For real estates, it is better to just co-own the property by joint tenancy. This form of ownership makes both of you joint owners, and when one passes away, the other automatically takes full ownership of the property without going through probate.
- Authorize your partner in your funeral proceeding
In some places, only your spouse and blood relatives have the authority to arrange and plan towards your funeral. If you come from such a place, your partner may be sidelined by your family when they can’t find any official document joining the two of you. This may lead to conflict as their voice will overshadow your partner’s. To avoid all this unnecessary drama, it is crucial you include your partner’s name in funeral authorization.
- Designate your partner as beneficiary of your accounts
Certain accounts like retirement account and life insurance have so much value for surviving partners especially when the deceased one is the primary breadwinner. Consider naming your unmarried partner as your beneficiary in these accounts as well as your payable-on-death bank account. When you die, the funds can then go directly to your partner.
Get help from an estate planning lawyer near you
Estate planning is a crucial step in every person’s life. Also, it is so easy to make mistakes while trying to create your estate plan because there is so much you don’t know. Truth be told, estate laws are complex and so it becomes crucial you seek assistance from a legal professional. An estate planning lawyer near you will be well knowledgeable in the local estate laws effective in your state. You can call our law office to get in touch with one.