Estate planning is something every able adult should do, especially if you’re living with someone and are not married. Couples living outside of marriage do not have the same rights when it comes to estate planning as married couples do. Questions of inheritances, decision-making authority, and other significant issues are all something you will want to address if you are in a committed relationship but are not married.
Estate Planning and Inheritances
One of the most significant issues that non-married couples face in estate planning is the question of inheritances. If you or your partner should die without an estate plan, neither of you will automatically have the right to inherit from the other. This is true regardless of how long you have been living together, or how long your relationship has lasted.
Even if you’ve been together for decades, the law does not give you the automatic inheritance rights that a spouse would have. Should you die without an estate plan, your property will be distributed to your closest surviving relative and not your partner.
However, you can choose the kinds of inheritances you want to leave by creating an estate plan. By creating tools such as a last will and testament and a revocable living trust, you can ensure that you leave something for your romantic partner.
Estate Planning and Decision-Making Ability
Should you one day become incapacitated you might want your partner to make decisions for you. However, as with inheritances, your non-married partner will not automatically have the legal authority to represent your interests should you become incapacitated.
In this situation it will fall to a court to determine who can make decisions on your behalf. The court will consider who should best make those decisions, but there is no guarantee that it will give you that right.
Fortunately, creating an estate plan will also allow you to name a representative of your choice. Through powers of attorney, revocable living trusts, and advance medical directives, you can create one or more tools that will give you the ability to choose who will represent your interests and make decisions for you. Though you can choose your partner to serve, you can also choose professional advisors, close friends, relatives, or anyone else you like.
Estate Planning and Common Law Marriage
A lot of people who have been living together for a long time mistakenly believe that they have inheritance or other rights because they are common-law married. This isn’t true. Though common law marriage is recognized in a small number of states, you cannot simply become married by common law after living together for a certain amount of time. If you think you are in a common-law marriage, talk to your estate planning lawyer for more information.