How is estate planning for unmarried couples different than if you’re married or even single? Here’s a look:
Estate Planning For Unmarried Couples vs. Married Couples
The significant difference is that marriage creates many legally recognized assumptions. For example, two assumptions are that your spouse will inherit your estate when you die and also make decisions on your behalf if you’re incapacitated. These assumptions essentially become the default estate plan without an explicit estate plan.
However, the situation is different when someone is unmarried and without children. The law will still try to make assumptions about what to do with the estate. But the results can become increasingly disconnected from the person’s actual wishes. That’s due to the laws of intestacy—state laws that determine what happens to a person’s assets if they die without a will.
The probate court goes through a set order of succession to find a relative who should inherit your estate. Your estate will go to the state if no such person can be found. The process in this situation can be quite complicated. Your assets, for example, could easily end up going to a distant cousin you never met, which may not be what you want.
This result can be especially unfortunate when the person who dies or is incapacitated is unmarried but does have a long-term partner. Even if the relationship is like a marriage in everything but name, the law may not recognize it. As a result, the partner can be left out as an estate is divided up or major medical decisions are being made.
How To Do Estate Planning When You’re An Unmarried Couple
When it comes to estate planning for unmarried couples, you have to be much more deliberate to overcome any legal assumptions that run counter to your wishes. The overall estate-planning process remains the same:
- Take stock of your assets
- Decide who you want to benefit from your estate
- Meet with an attorney to create a plan
- Review the plan from time to time
If you have someone in mind that you want to inherit all or part of your estate, whether a partner, friend, or relative, it’s essential to put this in writing in a properly drafted legal document. Or perhaps you want to establish a legacy of charitable giving. There are several ways to accomplish this, including establishing a revocable or irrevocable trust. Meeting with an attorney will help you do this in a way that passes legal scrutiny and minimizes tax exposure.
Unmarried couples should also strongly consider creating an advance medical directive and designating someone who has power of attorney to make decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. You should review these documents regularly to ensure they still match your wishes.
Meet with an Estate-Planning Attorney
When you’re ready to create an estate plan, our team of expert attorneys can help you put it into action. Schedule a consultation today to get started.