Why Unmarried Couples Should Have An Estate Plan

In a time where there is increased diversity of familial units, it is crucial for unmarried couples to consider the role of estate planning in securing their future. Unlike their married counterparts, unmarried partners often do not automatically benefit from the legal protections and rights that marriage confers, especially with respect to property, finances, and healthcare decision-making. Therefore, it becomes imperative for these couples to proactively establish estate plans that reflect their wishes and safeguard their assets. Estate planning is particularly important for unmarried couples for several reasons:

  • Legal Rights and Protections:  Since unmarried couples do not automatically receive legal rights and protections,  a proper estate plan will help to give an unmarried partner a legal claim to the deceased partner’s assets. 
  • Asset Distribution: In the absence of a will or estate plan, assets of the deceased individual are distributed according to state intestacy laws, which typically favor blood relatives. This can leave an unmarried partner without any share of the assets, regardless of the length or commitment of their relationship.

Besides a will or an estate plan setting forth your wishes with respect to your unmarried partner, you might want to consider whether it would be beneficial to title property in Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship.  If this is done, when one partner dies, the surviving partner automatically becomes the sole owner of the property. This can simplify the transfer of property upon death, but may have other legal and tax implications. For example, holding property jointly might limit flexibility in estate planning. Each person’s ability to control what happens to their share of the property after death is reduced. There also may be tax implications for transferring property into joint names, as well as estate tax considerations upon the death of one of the owners. If a couple decides to go this route, the stability of the relationship is an important factor. If the relationship ends, dividing jointly owned property can be complicated and potentially contentious.

  • Healthcare Decisions: Estate planning often includes creating a healthcare power of attorney, which allows individuals to designate who can make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. Without this, an unmarried partner may not have the legal authority to make healthcare decisions for their partner.
  • Financial Security: Proper estate planning can ensure that the surviving partner is financially secure after the death of their partner. This is especially important for long-term partnerships where finances and assets may be deeply intertwined.
  • Children and Dependents: If the couple has children, estate planning becomes even more vital. It allows for arrangements regarding the guardianship of minor children and ensures that their needs and financial support are addressed.
  • Minimizing Taxes and Legal Challenges: Effective estate planning can help in minimizing the tax burden on the surviving partner and can also reduce the likelihood of legal challenges from upset family members or heirs.
  • Peace of Mind: Finally, having an estate plan in place provides peace of mind for both partners, knowing that their wishes will be honored, and their partner will be taken care of in the event of their death.

In conclusion, estate planning for unmarried couples is essential to ensure that their wishes are respected, their assets are protected, and their loved ones are provided for. Contact Jones, Gregg, Creehan and Gerace for an initial consultation. Our experienced family law attorneys can provide you with guidance tailored to your personal situation.