If you have decided to postpone marriage, or forego getting married altogether in favor of simply co-habitating with your partner, you are not alone. In fact, the number of couples who have made the same decision as you have has skyrocketed in recent years. If living together without the “sanctity” of marriage was once a societal “sin,” it is now a societal trend. Though you may have considered some of the many practical implications of your decision not to marry, you likely overlooked the area of estate planning. Why is estate planning so important for couples who are living together? There are several reasons why creating a comprehensive estate plan is even more important for couples who have decided not to marry, including:
- Inheritance rights – one benefit that marriage offers is that it provides automatic inheritance rights. If you choose not to marry, and you die intestate, or without executing a Last Will and Testament, and/or a Revocable Living trust, prior to your death, your partner will have no legal rights to your estate. Not only does this mean he/she will not be entitled to valuable estate assets, but your partner will also not even legally be entitled to keep any sentimental or personally significant items from your estate.
- Incapacity – incapacity is not limited to the elderly – you could become incapacitated tomorrow as a result of a catastrophic illness, a tragic car accident, or a work related injury. If that happens, someone must make healthcare decisions for you during your incapacity. Although you would likely want your partner making those decisions, he/she will not be entitled to do so without petitioning a court. Creating a comprehensive estate plan that includes an advanced directive can resolve this problem.
- Joint ownership – once again, with regard to ownership of assets, the law automatically confers certain rights on a legal spouse that are not automatically available to a co-habitant. If you wish your partner to have immediate access and legal ownership of estate assets you may be able to accomplish that goal by using the correct type of joint ownership or by titling accounts accordingly. For example, changing your account designation for financial accounts to a “Payable on Death (POD)” account allows you to designate your partner as the account beneficiary in the event of your death. He/she will not have ownership rights to the assets held in the account while you are alive; however, upon your death ownership of the account assets automatically transfer to him/her without the need for them to go through probate. Choosing the correct type of joint ownership for real property can accomplish the same objective.
If you are currently living with someone and marriage is not in your future, an estate plan should be. If you have additional questions or concerns about creating your estate plan contact the experienced New York estate planning attorneys at The Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.