Estate planning is crucial for any couple. For married couples the laws are clear. That's not always the case for unmarried couples, whether they be same-sex or opposite-sex. If you don't make any plans, your final wishes may not be honored as you intended.
That's why it's important for unmarried couples to plan ahead in order to protect the interests and final wishes of both partners:
Name each other as beneficiaries
Unmarried partners should name each other as beneficiaries on all insurance policies, pensions and retirement accounts. Because not all pension and retirement accounts are the same, check with your employer or financial planner regarding non-family members being designated as beneficiaries.
Draw up wills
A will is essential, no matter your age. If one partner dies unexpectedly without a will, all of their assets can pass by default to their nearest living blood relative. Final wishes may not be honored either.
Naming your partner as your beneficiary doesn't negate the need for a will. You want to make sure all of your assets are covered and distributed properly. A will is the way to do that.
Title your property properly
If a property was purchased equally by both partners, both names should be included in the title. Adding the term "joint tenancy with right of survivorship" adds extra protection in the case of an untimely death. By including both names on the title, it keeps the property out of probate, which is a lengthy legal process.
If property belongs only to one partner, its essential that the other partner be put in the will. A revocable living trust will help fight any legal challenges by blood relatives.
Some states allow an "enhanced life estate deed." This allows a beneficiary to receive property. It's becoming more common and allows for an inexpensive transfer of property.
Draw up a durable power of attorney/advance care directive
If one unmarried partner becomes very ill or incapacitated and these documents haven't been drawn up, a family member or even the state can step in and make all health and financial decisions. One partner can even be legally denied the right to see the other.
Without a power of attorney or advance care directive, a lengthy court battle with surviving blood relatives can ensue.
While laws tend to favor married couples there are steps that an unmarried couple can take to protect themselves. Speak to an estate planning attorney in your home state to make sure you're both protected for the future. Have more questions? Try contacting a professional such as Lisa Cappolella Attorney at Law for help.
I am a real estate attorney, and I have been helping clients buy and sell property for many years. Some clients do not realize their legal obligations and options when it comes to purchasing or selling a house or land. I hope that this blog will be a way for people to get information about legal issues in real estate and what they need to know when doing business. Buying and selling property can be complicated, and all parties involved have legal obligations. Know what is expected of you, and you will be able to get the best out of your real estate transactions.