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Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples to Protect Assets

08/07/2023 | Estate Planning
Estate Planning

Good estate planning is always important, but you should put even more care into your estate plan if you and your significant other choose a long-term partnership over legal marriage. A thorough estate plan will help prevent serious issues in case one of you dies or becomes incapacitated. It may be helpful to seek legal advice from a competent estate planning attorney who understands your needs, goals, and unique family considerations.

Unmarried Couples and Inheritance

California doesn’t recognize common law marriage, and therefore, unmarried partners have no legal claim on each other’s inheritance, even if they lived together for decades.

Let’s say Bob, a California resident, suddenly passes away without a will. Bob and his long-term partner, Sue, had shared a household for 15 years but never tied the knot. Bob’s only living family members are two adult children from a former marriage, though he hasn’t had much contact with them in years.

In this case, each of Bob’s estranged children will inherit half of the estate, while his loving long-term partner Sue will be left with nothing, even though Bob wished to provide for her after his death. Listing Sue as a beneficiary in Bob’s will, and or trust, could have prevented this situation.

How to Leave Assets to Your Long-Term Partner

A will is generally the simplest way, but not the best way, for domestic partners to leave assets to each other. However, you can also use other legal methods, with the help of an estate planning attorney, to pass property to your partner:

  • A trust. Setting up a trust gives you a high level of control over asset distribution after your passing. A trust can also help your partner and other beneficiaries avoid probate.
  • Joint ownership. If you own real estate, you can add your partner to the title as a joint tenant with the right of survivorship. Then, if one of you passes, the survivor will inherit the property automatically.
  • Accounts with designated beneficiaries. Some assets, like IRAs, annuities, and life insurance policies, aren’t subject to a will but instead pass to designated beneficiaries. You can ensure your partner inherits these assets by listing them as a beneficiary.  

Advance Healthcare Directives

What happens if you become incapacitated? If you identify your partner as the person who will make medical decisions on your behalf in an emergency or end-of-life situation, you must outline this in an advance healthcare directive, a legal document that lists your wishes regarding critical medical care and appoints a trusted person to serve as your healthcare proxy.

Durable Powers of Attorney

If you suddenly lose the capacity to control your assets, you may want your partner to access and manage any accounts you hold separately. You can do so by creating a durable power of attorney (POA)

Keep in mind that you can only establish healthcare directives and powers of attorney while you’re in full possession of your mental faculties. Because nobody knows when they may suffer an accident, a stroke, or another emergency, it’s beneficial to set up these documents early.

Start Your Estate Planning Process with the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo

Are you living in a long-term partnership in California? Protect yourself, your significant other, your assets, and the entire family by starting the estate planning process today. Contact the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo to request help drafting a comprehensive, custom-tailored estate plan that secures your future and safeguards your legacy.

Call 818-273-1926 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with a California estate planning attorney.