Today, more and more couples are choosing to live together without getting married. They enjoy the same love and commitment as their married counterparts, but simply elect to forego the marriage process. There are numerous reasons as to why more couples are deciding to go this route, many citing that they don’t need a piece of paper to define their relationship. However, in the event of illness, injury, or death, the absence of proper documentation can leave you and your partner without any agency in terms of protecting one another. This doesn’t mean that you now have to get married if you and your partner don’t wish to do so. What it does mean is that you need to have the right paperwork drawn up through an estate plan in order to be able to look after one another.
If you and your partner are in a committed relationship and have been living together for several years, it’s likely that you have acquired both assets and debts together. Some of these may include bank accounts and vehicles (assets) or loans and credit card payments (debt). While you and your partner may be joint owners in these, if you should perish without an estate plan in place, your partner would not receive any benefits from your assets. However, they would be responsible for any joint debt shared between you. Your assets and properties would be conferred upon your biological family as the law would not recognize your partner as a legitimate spouse without a marriage certificate.
You have the right to remain unmarried if you wish to do so, but if you want to avoid a situation like this, you and your partner must make the necessary preparations through estate planning. In lieu of a marriage certificate, establishing certain documents in an estate plan would direct estate benefits to your partner. A last will and testament or a living trust are two estate planning documents that would help facilitate this process. In addition, updating your beneficiary designations can ensure that certain accounts will go to your partner in the event of your death. Get in touch with a qualified estate planning attorney to find the best way to get you and your partner’s assets and properties in order.
Powers of attorney
Another complication that can arise among unmarried couples is a lack of agency during a medical crisis. Consider, as an example, the following scenario: you’re in an accident that leaves you in a coma. Your condition requires that you be placed on life support as you are not likely to recover. While your partner knows that you are against the use of life sustaining treatments and would want to be taken off of them, your family opposes this and directs medical staff to keep you on life support as long as possible.
Though you and your partner may be just as committed as a married couple, you will not be considered as such in a medical emergency without proper documentation. You don’t need to have a marriage certificate, but you do need to establish your partner as a legal authority for your medical care in case you become incapacitated from an illness or injury. Failing to do so would mean that any major decisions regarding your health care would be left up to your biological family while your partner would have no say in the matter. You can protect your partner from such a helpless situation through medical powers of attorney. This document allows you to appoint your partner as an agent for your health care, meaning that your partner would be legally authorized to make critical medical decisions on your behalf, regardless of your marital status.
Indeed, it would be a great benefit for both you and your partner to assign each other not only medical powers of attorney in your respective estate plans, but also financial powers of attorney. As with your medical care, financial powers of attorney would give your partner the legal authorization needed to manage your finances should you become unable to do so. In either case, medical or financial, you won’t want to leave your partner without a voice in your matters. Without medical and financial powers of attorney, they could be left to watch helplessly on the sidelines while other people take over your decisions. Get in touch with an estate planning attorney and ensure your partner’s rightful place in your affairs.