Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Unmarried couple looking at documents

Unmarried couples encounter unique challenges in estate planning. Without the legal protections and benefits that marriage provides, unmarried partners must take extra steps to ensure their wishes are carried out and their loved ones taken care of in the event of illness, incapacity, or death. At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we have extensive experience helping unmarried couples in Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod create comprehensive estate plans that protect their rights, interests, and wishes.

The Importance of Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

You can’t rely on default laws to protect your partner or assets when you’re in a committed relationship but not legally married. Without a proper estate plan in place, your partner may face exclusion from crucial medical and financial decisions and could be ineligible to inherit any of your assets if you become incapacitated or pass away. Instead, legal decision-making power and inheritance rights could pass to biological family members who may not understand or respect your relationship.

Key Estate Planning Documents for Unmarried Couples

To protect yourselves and your relationship, you and your partner should each put in place several essential documents:

  • Will – A will lets you specify who should receive your individually owned assets after you pass away. State intestacy laws, which only recognize spouses and blood relatives, will govern the distribution of your assets if you do not have a will. Unmarried partners will not be recognized in this distribution.
  • Trust – If you and your partner jointly own assets like a home, vehicles, or bank accounts, you may want to create a trust to hold these assets. A trust can help you avoid probate, provide ongoing financial support for your partner, and guarantee your assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes.
  • Durable Power of Attorney – With a durable power of attorney, you can grant your partner the legal authority to manage your financial affairs and make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. 
  • Health Care Proxy – A health care proxy allows you to designate your partner as the person who will make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. You can also guide your care preferences and end-of-life wishes.
  • Living Will – In a living will, you can outline your preferences for medical treatment, life-sustaining measures, and end-of-life care. This can provide valuable guidance to your partner and healthcare providers.
  • Beneficiary Designations – Many assets, like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts, allow you to name a beneficiary who will inherit the asset after your death. Be sure to update your beneficiary designations to include your partner where appropriate.
  • Cohabitation Agreement – Similar to a prenuptial agreement but for unmarried couples, a cohabitation agreement allows you and your partner to specify your rights and obligations to each other and your property if your relationship ends. This can help you avoid costly legal disputes.

Protecting Your Home 

For many unmarried couples, their home is their most valuable asset. To ensure that your home passes to your partner as intended, you have several options:

  • Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship – If you and your partner own your home together as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, when one partner dies, the other partner automatically inherits the deceased partner’s share of the property without probate.
  • Transfer on Death Deed – Some states allow you to create a transfer on death deed that automatically transfers ownership of your home to your partner upon your death without probate.
  • Living Trust – By transferring your home into a living trust, you can specify exactly how you want your home managed and distributed upon your incapacity or death. You can name your partner as a beneficiary of the trust.
  • Will – You can also include provisions in your will to leave your share of the home to your partner, although this may require probate and could be subject to challenge by other heirs.
  • Life Estate – Establishing a life estate allows you to retain the right to live in the property for the rest of your life while naming your partner as the remainder beneficiary, ensuring they inherit the property upon your death.

These options provide unmarried couples with flexibility and control over the distribution of their home assets, ensuring that their wishes are carried out without unnecessary complications or disputes.

Planning for Incapacity

In addition to planning for death, unmarried couples must also prepare for the possibility of incapacity. If one partner becomes severely ill or injured and cannot make decisions, the other partner may find themselves excluded from critical medical and financial decision-making processes. Providing your partner with a durable power of attorney and health care proxy is essential in granting them the legal authority to manage your affairs and make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.

Moreover, it’s crucial to have open and honest discussions with your partner about your wishes for medical treatment and end-of-life care. By communicating your preferences clearly, you empower your partner to advocate for you effectively and ensure that your desires are respected during challenging times. Additionally, consider documenting your wishes in advance directives, such as a living will or medical power of attorney, to provide guidance to healthcare professionals and alleviate potential conflicts among family members.

Taking these proactive steps not only safeguards your interests but also strengthens the bond and mutual support between you and your partner, helping you both navigate life’s uncertainties with clarity, understanding, and respect.

Seeking Legal Guidance

Estate planning for unmarried couples is complex, and laws can vary widely by state. It’s wise to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands the unique needs of unmarried couples. 

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we take the time to understand each couple’s relationship, goals, and concerns. We then develop a personalized estate plan that protects your relationship, assets, and wishes. Whether your needs are simple or complex, we can help you put in place the documents and strategies you need for peace of mind.

Contact Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., Today

Don’t leave your future to chance if you’re in a committed relationship but not legally married. Contact Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., today to learn how we can help you create an estate plan that protects your partner, assets, and peace of mind. With offices in Easton, Hyannis, and New Bedford, we serve clients throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod. We look forward to working with you to secure your future and your relationship.