Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples is Imperative
Many committed couples choose not to marry. Our laws provide certain benefits to married couples that can sometimes fill the gap left by inadequate estate planning, such as intestate succession (when no will is in place, the decedent’s estate is distributed among immediate family members), and healthcare decision-making (with no Healthcare Power of Attorney in place, immediate family members are more likely to be able to make healthcare decisions for an incapacitated person). However, in the eyes of the law, a partner, no matter how committed the relationship, has no legal standing.
For this reason, estate planning for unmarried couples is different from estate planning for married couples—and even more imperative. Through strategic estate planning, a committed couple can take matters into their own hands and provide each other with some of the same rights and benefits as a married couple. Here are a few strategies an unmarried couple can use to protect their assets and provide for each other.
Will or Trust: Without a will or trust in place, the state’s intestacy laws determine how assets are distributed. While every state has a slightly different distribution plan, all states look to family members for distribution and if none, the estate usually escheats to the state. With a will or trust in place, the testator/testatrix can choose who receives what from the estate and provide for an unmarried partner.
Durable Power of Attorney: A durable power of attorney allows one person (the principal) to designate another (the agent) to make financial decisions if the principal becomes incapacitated. This is a way for an unmarried couple to be able to direct the financial interests of the other if the need arises.
Healthcare Power of Attorney: An unmarried couple should also put a healthcare power of attorney in place to ensure that each partner is authorized to make medical decisions for the other.
Joint ownership: Unmarried couples may want to consider joint ownership of assets (such as the home) to ensure that the partner can manage the assets in the event of incapacity or death. However, there are pros and cons of this type of planning that should be discussed with your attorney.
Beneficiary Designations: Using payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designations such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets ensure that the partner is the beneficiary. An added benefit is that the asset with a beneficiary designation typically does not need to be probated.
For committed unmarried couples, working with an experienced estate planning attorney is essential to ensure that your wishes are legally documented and to help curtail any potential disputes that may arise. Protect your partner and protect your assets.
Work with an Experienced Virginia Estate Planning Attorney
If you would like to ensure that you and your partner are protected, we are here to help. Contact Wilson Law PLC today at 866-603-5976 to set up a meeting or fill out our contact form and we will call you to schedule your meeting.