Once upon a time, living together without the benefit of legal marriage was not considered socially acceptable. Times have certainly changed; however, the law has not always kept up with those changing societal norms. A Baldwin Hills estate planning attorney at Collins Law Firm explains why estate planning is essential for unmarried couples.
Cohabitating Becomes the Norm
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. Even more interesting is the fact that unmarried older couples are also choosing to live together. The number of cohabitating couples over age 50 grew 75 percent in just ten years.
Benefits of Estate Planning for Cohabitating Couples
While society in general now views cohabitation as acceptable, the law has yet to catch up as is often the case. Consequently, couples who are legally married continue to benefit from that legal union in ways that cohabitating couples cannot. Being able to say that someone is your spouse continues to open doors and confer privileges that can be crucial under a variety of circumstances. The good news is that through comprehensive estate planning you can provide your partner with essentially the same benefits without the need to legally marry. For example:
- You can designate your partner as the person you want to take over control of your assets if you become incapacitated. If you were to become incapacitated tomorrow – and the odds of that happening are likely higher than you realize — the law would not favor appointing your partner to take over control of your assets during your 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.
- Naming your partner as a beneficiary of your estate and appointing him/her to oversee the administration of your estate. If you die without an estate plan in place the state intestate succession laws will dictate what happens to your assets and those laws 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 – not even sentimental items – no matter how long you have been together. 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. You can also appoint your partner to be the Executor of your estate which gives him/her the authority to oversee the administration of your estate.
- Naming your partner as the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. If you are unable to make your own medical decisions at some point, someone may 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 giving him/her that authority. In the absence of such a document, a judge will be forced to decide who will be your health care agent and, once again, a legal spouse and/or close relatives will be given priority when making that decision.
Contact a Baldwin Hills Estate Planning Attorney
For more information, please download our FREE estate planning worksheet. If you have additional questions about how to plan your estate if you are cohabitating, contact a Baldwin Hills estate planning attorney. Contact the Collins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 to register for one of our FREE estate planning workshops.