Are you in a committed relationship but have elected to forego legal marriage? If so, you are hardly alone. In recent decades, more and more people have chosen to put off marriage until they are much older, or to never marry at all. That doesn’t mean that they are not in a committed, life-long relationship though. If that describes your situation, a Harrison estate planning lawyer at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia explains why estate planning take on a heightened importance for couples who are not legally married.
Cohabitating Gains in Popularity
Until relatively recently, living together outside the bonds of matrimony was considered a religious sin and a social taboo. Times have certainly changed though. Figures released by the U.S. Census tell us that in 1968 only 0.1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 0.2 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner, according to the Current Population Survey. Those same figures show that 50 years later, in 2018, almost 10 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cohabitated and 15 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner. One of the most surprising trends is illustrated by the fact that unmarried older couples are also choosing to live together without marrying. The number of cohabitating couples over age 50 grew 75 percent in just ten years.
Estate Planning for the Unmarried
While cohabitation is now by and large viewed as acceptable by society, the law continues to favor legal marriage. Being able to say that someone is your spouse continues to open doors and confer privileges that can be crucial under a variety of circumstances. The good news is that through comprehensive estate planning you can provide your partner with essentially the same benefits without the need to legally marry. For example:
- Making sure that your partner is a beneficiary of your estate and that he/she oversees the administration of your estate. If you die without an estate plan in place the state intestate succession laws will dictate what happens to your assets and those laws distribute an estate to a decedent’s legal heirs which include a spouse and/or close relatives only. Because you are not legally married, your partner would receive nothing from your estate – not even sentimental items – no matter how long you have been together. By executing a Will and/or creating a trust you ensure that your partner is a beneficiary of your estate and receives the assets you want him/her to have after you are gone. You can also appoint your partner to be the Executor of your estate which gives him/her the authority to oversee the administration of your estate.
- Designating your partner as the person you want to take over control of your assets if you become incapacitated. If you were to become incapacitated tomorrow – and the odds of that happening are likely higher than you realize — the law would not favor appointing your partner to take over control of your assets during your incapacity. Creating a revocable living trust that appoints you as the Trustee and your partner as the successor Trustee can help resolve this dilemma. Major assets are transferred into the trust and if you become incapacitated, your partner takes over as the Trustee, giving him/her control over those assets without the need to seek judicial approval.
- Naming your partner as the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. If you are unable to make your own medical decisions at some point, someone may have to make life-sustaining, or life-ending, medical decisions for you. If you want your partner to make those decisions, you need to execute the appropriate advance directive giving him/her that authority. In the absence of such a document, a judge will be forced to decide who will be your health care agent and, once again, a legal spouse and/or close relatives will be given priority when making that decision.
Contact a Harrison Estate Planning Lawyer
Please feel free to download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions or concerns about the importance of estate planning for unmarried couples, or if you are ready to get started on your estate plan, contact a Harrison estate planning lawyer at the Law Offices of Kobrick & Moccia by calling 800-295-1917 to schedule your appointment.