Month: December 2021

Estate Planning For Unmarried Couples: What’s Different?

Estate Planning For Married Couples

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:

  1. Take stock of your assets
  2. Decide who you want to benefit from your estate
  3. Meet with an attorney to create a plan
  4. 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.

I’m Breaking A Lease. What Are My Rights?

Breaking a Lease

At one time or another, most renters will consider whether breaking a lease is a good idea. There can be a lot of reasons to break a lease—a decrease in earnings, poor conditions on the rental property, or perhaps they just found a better deal. But people often stick it out because they’re worried about the potential fallout. Breaking a lease agreement can be done but it’s important to understand what happens if you do so and when it might be legally justified.

What Happens When You Break A Lease

When you move out of a rental property before the lease term has expired (i.e., “break the lease”), the primary consequences are financial. Simply put, you’ll probably owe the landlord money for the remainder of the lease.

For example, if you have a 12-month apartment lease with $2,000 in monthly rent, you’ve agreed to pay the landlord $24,000 in 12 monthly installments. If you move out after six months, you still owe them $12,000. If the lease is month-to-month and you leave without giving the landlord the required notice (usually 30 or 60 days), you would owe rent for that notice period.

The landlord does have a legal responsibility to “mitigate damages.” Rather than just leaving the property empty, they have to attempt to find another suitable tenant to take your place. If they do find another tenant, you would generally be responsible for paying rent for the time the property was sitting vacant, but not the period after someone else is paying rent.

Because breaking a lease is essentially like incurring debt and not paying it, it will also likely have a negative impact on your credit score and could make it difficult to find another rental.

Justifications for Breaking a Lease Agreement

The situation above may sound dire, but there are a number of legal justifications for breaking a lease, meaning that you could do so without paying the remainder of the rent due. Here are some of the justifications recognized in California:

1. The property is unsafe or uninhabitable

There’s a legal principle called “constructive eviction,” where conditions at the rental property are so poor that the tenant has no choice but to leave. These conditions have to be serious problems—e.g., no heat in cold winter, no lock on the front door, etc.—that are the landlord’s responsibility to fix. The landlord also must be given a reasonable amount of time to address the problem.

2. Harassment or violation of your rights

This is an extension of the constructive eviction principle described above. For example, suppose a landlord repeatedly enters the property without giving you at least 24-hour notice or performs deliberately harassing actions such as changing the locks. In that case, you may be able to break the lease without paying rent.

3. Active military duty

Under federal law, a member of uniformed services who is called to active duty may terminate their lease within 30 days of the next rent payment, regardless of how much time is left on the lease term.

4. Victim of domestic violence and other crimes

Under California law, if you or an immediate family member has been a victim of domestic violence, stalking, assault, or other crimes, this can justify terminating a lease early. In these cases, the tenant is only responsible for 14 days of rent following notice to the landlord.

If You Need to Break Your Lease

If you’re in a position where you need to break a lease agreement, advice from an experienced attorney can make the process much easier. An attorney can evaluate your situation to see if you have a legal justification for breaking the lease. Even if you don’t, they can negotiate with the landlord to minimize the negative consequences. Contact our office today for a consultation.