Not all that long ago, an unmarried man and woman living together were thought of as “living in sin.” They were routinely shunned by family members and ostracized by society. Today, however, the stigma against living together outside of marriage has all but vanished. In fact, more and more couples are not just choosing to cohabitate prior to marriage, but many are foregoing legal marriage altogether. With that in mind, the Beverly estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices discuss how estate planning can protect unmarried couples.
The Shifting Concept of Marriage in America
While not everyone approves, more and more Americans see marriage as “optional.” Ironically, people who are old enough to remember when living together outside the bounds of marriage was taboo are increasingly choosing to do just that. The number of cohabitating couples over age 50 grew 75 percent in just ten years. Older couples aren’t the only ones deciding to put off or forego marriage. Figures released by the U.S. Census tell us that in 1968 only 0.1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 0.2 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner, according to the Current Population Survey. Those same figures show that 50 years later, in 2018, almost 10 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cohabitated, and 15 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner. Whether you are 25 or 65, if you are living together outside the bounds of marriage, a comprehensive estate plan can protect you and your partner.
How Can Estate Planning Help Unmarried Couples?
The reality is that the law still favors marriage. The act of legal marriage immediately confers a considerable amount of authority and benefits to your partner. Your new spouse becomes a legal heir to your estate. Your spouse also becomes your next of kin if medical decisions need to be made for you. The list is long and the only way you can even the playing field if you choose not to marry is through comprehensive estate planning. An estate plan can help in a myriad of ways, including:
- Making your partner a beneficiary of your estate. Although state intestate succession laws can vary somewhat, they all distribute an estate to a decedent’s legal heirs which include a spouse and/or close relatives only. Because you are not legally married, your partner would receive nothing from your estate – no matter how long you have been together. He/she would not even be entitled to sentimental personal property that you would undoubtedly want him/her to have. By executing a Will and/or creating a trust you ensure that your partner is a beneficiary of your estate and receives the assets you want him/her to have after you are gone.
- Planning for the possibility of incapacity. The reality is that if you were to become incapacitated tomorrow the law would not favor appointing your partner to take over control of your assets du incapacity. Creating a revocable living trust that appoints you as the Trustee and your partner as the successor Trustee can help resolve this dilemma. Major assets are transferred into the trust and if you become incapacitated, your partner takes over as the Trustee, giving him/her control over those assets without the need to seek judicial approval.
- Making sure your partner makes healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them. There may come a time when you are unable to make your own medical decisions and someone might have to make life-sustaining, or life-ending, medical decisions for you. If you want your partner to make those decisions, you need to execute the appropriate advance directive because if a judge is forced to decide who will be your health care agent the judge will likely not even consider your partner.
- Ensuring that your wishes are honored. You may have very strong feelings about your own funeral and burial. You, however, won’t be around to ensure that your own wishes are honored and if a dispute erupts regarding who should make those decisions, a court will likely appoint a close family member instead of your partner. Fortunately, estate planning can ensure that your wishes are honored and that your partner is in charge of making discretionary funeral and burial decisions for you.
Contact the Beverly Estate Planning Attorneys
For more information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions about how estate planning can protect unmarried couples, contact the Beverly estate planning attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.
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