Many couples who are committed to each other may simply choose not to get married. Our laws provide certain benefits to married couples that can sometimes fill the gap left by inadequate estate planning. For example, when no will is in place, the decedent’s estate is distributed among family members through intestate succession. Also, in the absence of a healthcare directive, family members are typically the ones who are empowered to make healthcare decisions for an incapacitated person. Unfortunately, in the eyes of the law, an unmarried partner has no such standing.
Therefore, estate planning for unmarried couples is different from estate planning for married couples, and it is even more important. A committed couple can take matters into their own hands and provide each other with some of the same rights and benefits as a married couple through strategic estate planning. Here are a few strategies that unmarried couples can use to protect their assets and take care of each other.
Will or Trust
Having a will or trust in place allows a person to choose who receives what from their estate and provide for a long-term partner. Without a will or trust to direct how assets are passed along, the state’s intestacy laws determine how assets are distributed. While they differ in exactly how assets are distributed, all states look exclusively to family members for distribution.
Durable Power of Attorney
A durable power of attorney allows one person (the principal) to designate another (the agent) to make financial or medical decisions (or both) if the principal becomes incapacitated. This is a way for an unmarried person to designate a partner to manage their financial interests or healthcare if the need arises.
Advance Healthcare Directive
Depending on state law, an unmarried person may also want to put healthcare directives in place to ensure that the partner is authorized to make medical decisions for them.
Unmarried couples may want to consider owning assets jointly (such as the home) to ensure that the partner can manage the assets or obtain them in the event of incapacity or death.
Payable on Death Designations
Using payable-on-death designations (or transfer-on-death designations) for life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets ensures that the partner is the beneficiary. An added benefit is that the asset with a beneficiary designation typically does not need to go through the probate process.
If you are in a long-term partnership and want to protect your assets and your partner, working with an experienced estate planning attorney is essential.
Work with an Experienced Corning Estate Planning Attorney
At Roth Elder Law, PLLC, we help partners create effective estate plans that ensure their wishes are met. If you’d like to work with us, Roth Elder Law, PLLC would be happy to start that conversation. Call us today to schedule an initial meeting at 607-962-6162 or complete this intake form and we’ll be in touch.