Estate Planning Essentials for Unmarried Partners: How Can You Secure Your Future Together?

Estate Planning Essentials for Unmarried Partners: How Can You Secure Your Future Together?

Originally published on willsandestates.nyc.

When it comes to securing your future with a life partner, marriage often triggers specific legal protections and benefits, including rights to inheritance and decision-making in cases of medical emergencies. However, for couples who are unmarried—whether by choice or circumstance—the lack of a formal union can create significant legal gaps in protection. This is where estate planning becomes indispensable.

The Perils of Overlooking Estate Planning

For unmarried couples, the default laws of most states do not recognize a partner as an inheritor or decision-maker in critical situations. Without legal documents like wills, trusts, or medical directives, the state can make decisions that might not reflect the couple’s desires. For instance, without a will, the assets of a deceased partner might be distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws, usually favoring biological relatives over a life partner.

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The Case of Lydia: A Real-World Example

Consider the situation of Lydia, a woman with four children who has chosen not to marry her partner of 15 years. Despite their longstanding relationship, without proper estate planning, her partner could be legally excluded from inheriting any part of Lydia’s estate or making critical medical decisions on her behalf should she become incapacitated.

Imagine Lydia unexpectedly passes away without a will. Her estate would then be subject to state laws, which typically distribute assets to biological relatives—her children in this case. Despite years of shared life and mutual support, her partner would receive nothing and might even face eviction from their shared home if it was solely in Lydia’s name.

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Moreover, without appointed health care proxies or living wills, Lydia’s partner would not have the authority to make medical decisions for Lydia if she were ever incapacitated. Instead, this responsibility would likely fall to her next of kin, such as her children or siblings, who might make decisions contrary to what Lydia, or her partner would have wanted.

Essential Estate Planning Tools for Unmarried Couples

To avoid such distressing scenarios, unmarried couples should consider the following essential estate planning tools:

  1. Wills: A will is fundamental for specifying how your assets should be distributed after death. It can ensure that your partner inherits specific assets and can also appoint your partner as an executor of your estate.
  2. Trusts: Establishing a trust can offer more control over how your assets are handled and distributed. A living trust, for example, allows you to specify precisely when and how your assets are passed on to your partner, potentially bypassing the lengthy and public probate process.
  3. Powers of Attorney: This document allows you to appoint your partner as your attorney-in-fact, giving them the authority to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. This is crucial for ensuring that day-to-day financial responsibilities, like paying bills or managing investments, can continue smoothly.
  4. Advance Healthcare Directives include living wills and healthcare proxies that empower your partner to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot. This ensures that someone understanding your wishes and values can oversee your medical care.  
  5. Beneficiary Designations: Many financial accounts and insurance policies allow you to designate beneficiaries directly. Make sure these designations are up-to-date and include your partner where appropriate. This step can be critical in ensuring your partner receives these assets directly outside the probate process.

Taking Control of Your Joint Future

Estate planning for unmarried partners is not just about securing assets—it’s about affirming your commitment to each other and ensuring that both partners are protected and empowered to act on each other’s behalf in times of need. By setting up the appropriate legal documents, you can safeguard your rights as a couple and reflect the reality of your life together, irrespective of your marital status. For couples like Lydia and her partner, taking these steps is not just practical; it’s a necessary affirmation of their partnership and shared life.

Legal Guidance

Estate planning is a necessity, not a luxury. Protect your loved ones, legacy, and assets. Contact the experienced Estate Planning Law Firm of Figeroux & Associates. Call 855-768-8845 or schedule an appointment at www.askthelawyer.us

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