A couple should create an appropriate estate plan. If they truly want inheritance rights, they need to execute testamentary documents, such as wills.
For unmarried couples, having an estate plan might be even more important than for married couples, especially if there are children in the family. The unmarried couple does not enjoy the legal protection afforded by marriage, but many of these protections can be had through a well-prepared estate plan.
A couple should also think about what happens if something happens and a funeral needs to be planned. Without a plan, the surviving partner may not have a say in the final arrangements.
Unmarried cohabiting adults have unique estate planning needs that need to be addressed through a complete and thorough estate plan, and it isn’t a do-it-yourself job — you will need a lawyer so that it is done right.
A will is the starting point of an estate plan, and for an unmarried couple, having it professionally prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney is very important. An agreement between two people as to how they want their assets distributed after death sounds simple, but each state has its own laws, and if the document is not prepared correctly, it could very easily be invalid. That would make the couple’s agreement useless.
There are also things that need to be prepared, so an unmarried couple can take care of each other while they are living, which they cannot legally do without being married. A cohabitating couple has no right to direct medical care for each other, including speaking with the healthcare provider or even seeing their partner as a visitor in a healthcare facility. If a decision needs to be made by one partner because the other partner is incapacitated, their partner will not have the legal right to make any medical decisions or even speak with a healthcare provider.
If the couple owns vehicles separately, the vehicles have their own titles (i.e., the legal document establishing ownership). If they want to add their partner’s name to the vehicle, the title needs to be reissued by the state to reflect that change.
If the couple owns a home together, they need to confirm how the home is titled. If they are joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants in common, that might be appropriate for their circumstances. However, if one person bought the home before they lived together or was solely responsible for paying the mortgage and for upkeep, they will need to make sure the title and their will establishes ownership and what the owner wants to happen with they die.
If the wish is for the surviving partner to remain in the home, that needs to be properly and legally documented. An estate planning attorney will help the couple create a plan that addresses this large asset and reflect the couple’s wishes for the future.
It’s also important to note, that being in a committed relationship in the state of Washington can establish rights to one another’s property, such as retirement and property acquired during the relationship. A nasty breakup can bring property division fights the parties may have not considered. With an estate plan in place, property can be kept separate, should the ever part.
Unmarried cohabitating adults need to protect each other while they are living and after they pass. A local estate planning attorney will be able to help accomplish this.
For more information, if you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, contact experienced estate planning attorney Bob Michaels to schedule an appointment.
Bob Michaels is extremely passionate about providing the best possible legal experience for his clients, and focuses his practice on elder law, estate planning, business, and real estate matters. Bob has been able to provide piece of mind and a solid foundation to many folks in the Puget Sound area over the years and wants to provide resources and relevant information whenever he can.