There is no question that couples are waiting a lot longer to get married than couples did 20 or 30 years ago. In fact, a recent study shows that as the marriage rate has fallen, the number of adults in cohabiting relationships continues to increase.
Specifically, there are about 18 million people cohabiting, which is 29% higher than in 2007. About half of those in cohabiting relationships are younger than 35 years old. Further, since 2007 the number of cohabiting adults over the age of 50 has increased by 75%.
What do those statistics tell us about the state of relationships in this country? It tells us that there are many more couples who are living happily ever after, but do not feel the need to solidify the fairy tale with a marriage certificate.
The only downside to this trend for the unmarried couples out there is that, unfortunately our laws still favor marriage. Indeed, the legal system provides many benefits to married couples including:
- Joint tax filing
- Spousal privilege
- Inheritance; and
- Social Security benefits
Those benefits, and many others, are not afforded to unmarried couples under our laws generally.
That said, there are things that you can do to ensure that you and your partner can still enjoy “marriage-like” benefits without having to get married. And that starts with an estate planning for you and your partner.
Remember, when it comes to an estate plan, there are two main considerations:
1. How is my care handled if I’m incapacitated?
2. What happens to my assets if I pass away?
Given that, as an unmarried couple, the status of your partner’s decision-making ability on your care and assets is unclear, you need an estate plan to clarify them.
In this article, we discuss 5 tips to help you with your estate planning as an unmarried couple.
Tip #1 – Handling Real Estate
Any good estate plan makes sure that your assets avoid the arduous process of probate. Most likely your most valuable asset is your real estate. So, to ensure that your partner is protected if you pass away, you can do two things with regard to real estate.
First, you could name your partner as a joint tenant. In so doing, you create right of survivorship in your partner in connection with your real estate. That is because if property is held as a joint tenancy, then the joint tenant automatically takes the whole property upon the death of the other joint tenant.
Second, you could transfer your property to a Living Trust for yourself or to a joint trust with your partner. After you pass away, your partner would handle the estate as a successor trustee.
Tip #2 – Have Your Partner Be Your Beneficiary for All Financial Accounts
Your bank account, your IRA, your insurance policies, and other accounts allow you to name a beneficiary who automatically has an interest in your account upon your death, without the need for probate.
So, to protect your partner, take the time to look over all of the beneficiary designations in those accounts to make sure that your partner is the beneficiary and will have access to the accounts upon your death.
Tip #3 – The Power of Attorney
One of the most important estate planning documents you can have, and should have, is a durable power of attorney. The document is important because it indicates how your affairs should be handled during your lifetime in the event you become incapacitated.
When you give your partner power of attorney, your partner can make financial and medical decisions for you, as well as carry out your end-of-life decisions.
Tip #4 – A Letter of Instruction and Keeping Everyone in the Loop
The things we don’t often think about in the case of death include those mundane things that we often take for granted – how to pay important bills, where the key to the safe deposit box is, what services (like cell phone service) need to be cancelled.
A Letter of Instruction can take care of those concerns. Having a formal set of instructions on the things that we know about but take for granted will help immensely to those, including your partner, who need to unwind your affairs after you pass.
Also, be sure to have an honest conversation with family members about your partner’s role in your estate plans. That way, in the case of an unfortunate event, your family members will not misunderstand your partner’s role with medical and financial decisions.
Tip #5 – The Digital Estate Plan
This relatively new concept is coming out of the fact that we all now have a rather complex web of digital existence. Be sure to include your partner in how you wish your digital accounts – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email – to be closed after your death.
Doane & Doane: the Estate Planning Attorneys Who Can Help You Plan for Peace of Mind
There are so many considerations that are important to ensure that your care and your assets are handled upon your death. So, you would be wise to consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer, particularly if you are an unmarried couple. The estate planning lawyers at Doane & Doane are well suited to addressing all of your estate concerns as an unmarried couple.
At Doane & Doane, our estate planning lawyers help you determine the best tools to plan for all of life’s eventualities. Let us help you. We at Doane & Doane combine big firm resources and experience with the personal touch of a small, boutique firm. We pride ourselves on offering the kind of one-on-one attention that clients at big firms often do not enjoy.
After almost two decades of practice, we have earned the reputation as one of West Palm Beach’s most prominent estate planning law firms. In particular, we understand that estate and probate matters involve a great deal of emotion. We are privileged to help clients on such important matters, and we genuinely care for and support our clients and their families. Our friendly staff and atmosphere are vital to the quality client service we provide.
We hope that all of our clients, friends, and business associates enjoy the hospitality of our firm’s legal staff. Doane & Doane serves clients in the communities along Florida’s Gold Coast and Treasure Coast, including Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin counties. For a free consultation and to get to know our firm, please give us a call at 561-656-0200.