It’s especially important for unmarried couples to do proper estate planning. There can be serious problems for people living together without the benefit of marriage. One is that they don’t have any legal right to make medical decisions for each other. Another is that without any Will or estate plan in place, the surviving partner has no legal right to any of the deceased partner’s property. That’s just for starters, explains the article “Longtime unmarried couple hasn’t planned for future” from the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
An unmarried couple may be pleased with their decision to live on their own terms. However, by refusing to plan for the inevitable, they’re creating unnecessary difficulties for their loved ones. Their children and grandchildren will likely have to sort out the mess after one of the partners dies. They may end up in court, battling over the house or other assets.
If an unmarried couple wants their property to end up in the hands of their own children when they pass away, they need to create an estate plan to make that happen. Otherwise, when the first partner dies, any assets owned in joint tenancy will go to the surviving partner. Then, when the surviving partner dies, those assets will go to his or her children, and nothing will be passed to the other family. Even worse, if the surviving partner enters into another relationship, the deceased partner’s assets could end up with a complete stranger or that stranger’s children!
The surviving partner will have no legal right to any of the deceased partner’s assets, other than those that were titled jointly or those that have the surviving partner named as a beneficiary. Without a Will, assets owned by the deceased partner that are titled in his or her name only belong to the decedent’s probate estate and will pass to the decedent’s children. The surviving partner could easily be left homeless.
This situation that adversely affects unmarried couples can be easily remedied with an estate plan, creating Wills and Trusts that clearly spell out how each partner wants his or her assets to be distributed upon death. There are many different ways to make this happen, but it’s best to work with an estate planning attorney. Where will the surviving non-homeowner will live after the homeowner dies? An estate planning attorney may recommend options such as leaving the surviving partner a life estate in the home, or creating a Trust that holds the home for the surviving partner’s use. When the survivor dies, the home can then pass to the homeowner’s children. In that case, a series of agreements about how the home will be maintained may need to be created.
An indifferent attitude about the future can be very painful for those who are left behind. But taking the time and making an investment in comprehensive estate planning benefits the unmarried couple and their families.
Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (April 7, 2019) “Longtime unmarried couple hasn’t planned for future”