According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 7.7 million unmarried couples living in the same households in 2010. If you have a life partner and are living together, but are not legally married, estate planning is a must. Laws that govern transfer of property on death are designed for a married couple. The same laws and protections are not available to unmarried couples.
Without the proper estate plan, your unmarried partner will not inherit any of your property, which includes, real property, financial assets and personal property. For example, if you die without a valid will, state law will dictate what happens to your solely owned property after your death. Under the law, if property passes outside of a Will, for any reason, the property will be transferred to your closest living relatives. The law will not automatically transfer property to your unmarried partner.
Fortunately, there are estate planning tools that you can utilize to transfer assets to your unmarried partner on your death. A well drafted Will or Trust, Property Deed and specially planned asset management strategies can help achieve your goals and transfer property between you and your partner when one of you passes with very little effort. However, always make sure you consult with a tax professional regarding the tax implications of your estate plan.
The other issue that unmarried partners face is participating in emergency medical decisions or end-of-life medical care. Without a valid Health Care Power of Attorney or Living Will naming your partner as your health care agent for medical decisions, they will not be able to make any medical decisions on your behalf. The law dictates that the medical providers look to your closest living relatives to make the decisions.
It is important to recognize the risks and difficulties faced by unmarried couples when it comes to the final disposition of your property or participating in emergency medical decisions and potential way to help mitigate them. If you are living together and unmarried and would like to set up an estate plan or review an existing estate plan to ensure that it meets your present needs, please contact Owens & Perkins at 480.630.2464 for a complimentary ½ hour consultation.