More couples than ever are choosing not to get married. In fact, the number of unmarried couples living together has nearly tripled in this country since the beginning of the 21st century. Many of these couples are older.
Being in a committed relationship without a marriage license is far more accepted than it once was. However, there are some steps that you and your partner need to take to protect yourselves when one of you dies or even becomes seriously ill or injured. Wise estate planning can help you.
It’s important for everyone to have at least a will and often a more extensive estate plan. If you and your partner aren’t married, it’s even more crucial. The law determines how assets are distributed when someone dies without a will (“intestate”).
Only family members, such as spouses, children, parents and siblings, are in line to receive assets when the probate court makes the determination. If you want your partner to have any or all of your assets, you need to include them in a will and/or trust.
Health care decisions
With an advance health care directive, you make your wishes known for what kind of treatment and/or life-prolonging measures you want (or don’t want) if you’re unable to speak for yourself. The person you appoint as your agent and give power of attorney (POA) has the authority to be informed about your medical care and make decisions based on your directive or (if you don’t have one) on what they believe you would want.
While a spouse would typically have that authority even without any legal documents, an unmarried partner doesn’t. Your wishes could be overridden by a family member you haven’t been close to in years.
By giving your partner durable POA over your finances, they have the authority to take over paying bills, managing your accounts, filing taxes and handling other financial issues for you if you’re unable to. Even if both of your names are on your home, your loans and other assets and debts, there may be matters where they have no authority. A durable POA can prevent that.
If you and your partner have been together for some time and intend to remain together, it’s a good idea to learn more about ways in which you can continue to look after each other no matter what happens.