Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples
Wanting a companion to share life with is a common desire held by everyone, as well as the wish to provide for his/her financial security after death. Estate plans are a mechanism created by the law to transfer property after death, but for unmarried couples, putting together a plan that fully and adequately addresses their needs and concerns often takes more creativity and effort. The companionship traditionally forged and memorialized through marriage brings a lot of legal benefits that include property rights after death. But for couples that choose not to follow this path, the absence of an estate plan means no inheritance for the survivor or right to make decisions in the partner’s end-of-life care. Consequently, affirmative steps need to be made while both individuals are healthy and able to make informed choices about what they wish to pass on and how to handle their estate. A discussion of some key considerations unmarried couples should make when formulating an estate plan to ensure the other partner receives the intended share will follow below.
Consequences of No Estate Plan
In the absence of any estate planning documents, Florida trust and estate law only recognizes the right of inheritance for blood relatives and married spouses. Dying without an estate plan puts the deceased’s assets under the rules of intestacy, which gives everything to the nearest blood relative, regardless of any close ties a person may have to a partner. Further, it is risky to count on the sentiments of one’s family to give an unmarried partner a share of assets, as they may not believe the partner deserves anything. End-of-life medical care decisions would also fall to blood relatives over life partners, and unless the family chooses to share information, the other partner will be left in the dark about developments and decisions.
Wills and trusts are the best way to protect assets and retain control of property in the event of a partner’s death or separation. The types of property handled by these documents include real estate, financial accounts, vehicles, personal property, and collectibles, among other items of value. Executing these documents is relatively straightforward, if one uses an experienced estate planning attorney, but an additional complication may occur if there are significant assets and children from an earlier marriage. In this case, if disputes over an estate plan are anticipated, the selection of a professional trustee may be advisable to reduce the likelihood of conflict.
One of the easiest methods to ensure a partner receives assets after death is to title the property with both partners being co-owners with a right of survivorship. In this situation, the deceased’s share automatically transfers to the other owner without the need for probate or other legal processes. One need only to modify deeds, car titles, and any other titled property to reflect joint ownership to achieve this result.
Healthcare Surrogate and Durable Powers of Attorney
Finally, making sure a partner has the ability to make financial and end-of-life medical decisions in the event of incapacity is another key concern that all couples have. Executing a healthcare directive that designates a healthcare surrogate to make medical decisions and allows the grantor to decide how limited or expansive the authority should be is the most effective way to retain some control over medical decisions. Powers of Attorney are used to handle financial affairs, and like healthcare directives, can be broad or limited in scope. These two documents, along with a will or trust, are the principal ways an unmarried couple can represent and protect their bond when it counts the most – at the end.
Get Legal Advice
Estate planning is an essential part of directing the financial future of your loved ones, and should not be neglected until the final hours. To ensure your wishes are represented and your family’s interests secured, talk to William Rambaum about your estate planning options. Over three decades working with estate planning issues gives attorney Rambaum a wealth of knowledge he will put to use addressing your concerns. Contact the Oldsmar office today to schedule an appointment.