State probate laws govern how property is distributed after someone’s death. Typically, if the person as a valid will, then their assets will pass according to the provisions they indicated in their will. However, if no valid will exists, then intestate laws dictate how the decedent’s property will be distributed. In other words, the state will decide who gets your loved one’s property after their death. Typically, the majority of the property will pass to the spouse and/or children if there is no will. However, intestate laws do not recognize couples that are not married. Therefore, estate planning for single couples is very important to ensure couples are able to care for one another and inherit property.
Estate planning tips for unmarried couples include preparing and signing several important documents. While marriage confers certain rights on the spouse, unmarried couples do not have these rights. Seeking the advice of a probate attorney to prepare the following documents is the first step in estate planning for unmarried couples.
Last Will and Testament – Having a will is essential for unmarried couples to protect each other in the event of a death. This is the document is the legal vehicle which dictates how your property will be distributed from your probate estate. Seek the advice of a probate attorney to make sure that your will cannot be challenged by other family members.
Durable Power of Attorney – A power of attorney ends upon the death of the grantor; therefore, this document will not enable a mate to take any action on behalf of their deceased partner. However, before death a power of attorney is a useful tool, as it will allow either partner to transact business on the other’s behalf if needed.
Medical Power of Attorney – A medical POA allows a partner to make medical decisions should the other partner become disabled or incapacitated. Absent a medical power of attorney, the closest living blood relative will likely be asked to make decisions. Unmarried couples should consider carefully whom they want to make decisions in the even of a medical emergency.
Living Will – A Living Will is a directive to physicians stating what life prolonging treatments the patient wishes to be used if necessary. It also states when and if life-sustaining treatments should not be used to prolong life. Living Wills do not become effective until the patient is terminal or permanently unconscious. When single couples are planning their estate, they should seek an attorney’s advice before signing a Living Will to make sure they understand all of the ramifications. However, a Living Will may be important to unmarried couples to make sure that their wishes are carried out and not prevented by family members.
Life Insurance, Retirement Accounts and other Financial Accounts – Life insurance, as well as many retirement accounts, pass to a named beneficiary upon the death of the owner. These accounts pass outside of the probate estate and do not need to be included in a will provided they have a beneficiary named for the account or policy.
Irrevocable and Revocable Trust Agreements – Unmarried couples may want to explore a trust during the estate planning process. Trusts are as varied as the couples seeking to protect their partners by using a trust. In order to ensure that a trust is a legally binding contract, an attorney experienced in drafting trusts should be involved in the planning and execution.
Estate planning for single couples involves the same steps that married couples should take to protect their loved ones. However, because laws do not protect unmarried couples, it is extremely important to have valid, legal documents detailing your wishes in the event of your death or disability.