Many couples make the choice not to wed, even after being together for decades, for personal or financial reasons. For example, some clients don’t marry so as not to impact their children’s inheritance, while others would rather not bother with the legalities, says a recent article, “Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples” from My Prime Time News. In some cases, marriage would cause the couple to lose pension or Social Security benefits, if they remarried.
However, unmarried couples must take extra care to have estate planning documents in place to make their wishes clear and to protect each other in case of incapacity, serious illness, and, ultimately, death.
From any statutory priority, a significant other does not have the legal rights granted to a spouse to serve as a personal representative for their loved one’s estate. In addition, there is no statutory right to inherit property including any family allowance or exempt property allowance.
The significant other also has no rights regarding acting as guardian for their partner and no ability to make medical decisions, if they become incapacitated or disabled.
All of these issues, however, can be resolved with the help of an estate planning attorney. Both partners should execute a will, trust, health care power of attorney, power of attorney and a living will to protect each other.
The will names a personal representative who will be in charge of the decedent’s estate and distribute the person’s assets. With no will, a partner will inherit no assets, unless they are owned jointly or the partner is a named beneficiary.
Having a health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney gives a partner the power to make decisions if their loved one becomes incapacitated. These documents give the partner the right to act as the agent and can avoid guardianship proceedings.
Disputes between the adult children of unmarried couples are common if a comprehensive estate plan is not completed. For example, imagine a partner of many decades becoming too ill to communicate their end-of-life wishes. Even after a lifetime together, the adult children will have the legal upper hand, regardless of what the couple has discussed as their wishes for this situation.
It may be challenging for unmarried couples to discuss their living arrangements and family dynamics. However, an experienced estate planning attorney will have the knowledge to prepare an estate plan to address all family dynamics.
Once this work is done, the couple can rest easy, knowing they have protected each other in the best and worst circumstances.
Reference: My Prime Time News (May 1, 2023) “Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples”