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 or executor 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 or conservator 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, health care power of attorney, general power of attorney and a living will to protect each other.
The last will and testament designates a personal representative or executor who will be in charge of the decedent’s estate and inherit 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. In addition, these power of attorney documents are necessary for adult children to have priority in making these decisions, and guardianship proceedings will be required if there are no children or family members.
Disputes between the adult children of unmarried couples are common if a comprehensive estate plan still needs to be 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, the experienced estate planning attorney has met with and helped families of all kinds and 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.