Couples in California who decide to live together rather than marrying may think that their estate will automatically go to their partner without benefit of a will. The truth is, it probably will not because marriage offers several automatic protections for issues such as estate planning and medical directives that are not available to unmarried partners.
Even couples who have lived together for many years should take care that their wills and other legal documents specify who will get their personal and real property upon death. An example of this would be a couple who have lived together for 20 years in a house that, in this case, belonged to the woman. If she dies without a will, the house will likely pass to her family members under state intestacy law, and this could potentially leave her partner homeless because the family can ask him to move out of the property.
Illness can be another issue. Failing to create a medical directive specifying that a partner has the right to make decisions can leave the healthy partner with limited options. For example, family members may end up making decisions about the ill partner's health if he or she cannot. Furthermore, since unmarried partners have no rights, they can even be blocked by family from visiting the hospital.
While living together may be convenient, care needs to be taken to make sure that everything is in order legally. Houses do not, in general, pass automatically to the living partner unless they were purchased jointly. Nor does a partner have the right to make medical decisions without a healthcare directive. These documents are common and can easily be drawn up by an estate planning attorney.
Source: The Californian, "Unwed couples face fretful money issues", Jeff Stoffer and Joann Babiak, July 08, 2014