Many couples remain lifelong partners without ever getting married. While you may not feel like you need a marriage certificate, if you want to ensure that you and your partner provide for each other after one of you passes away, you need to put an estate plan in place.
Further, the right documents will help ensure that you can advocate on each other’s behalf in case of a serious injury or illness and handle their finances if they’re unable to do so. Let’s look at a few basic estate planning tools that will help you protect each other.
If a person dies without a will (intestate), their assets are distributed according to state law among their family members with no regard to their actual relationship (or lack of one). That means your assets could go to relatives from whom you’re estranged or maybe have never even met. Meanwhile, your partner would get nothing since there’s no legally recognized familial relationship. A will allows you to leave everything or as much as you choose to your partner.
Durable powers of attorney for health care and finances
If you were to become incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself (for example, if you were in a coma), a health care power of attorney (POA) would give your partner the authority they need to discuss your care with your doctors and make decisions on your behalf. By also having an advance directive, you can codify your wishes for things like when you want life-prolonging measures taken and removed. This helps your partner and your medical team.
A POA for finances allows your partner to handle whatever financial matters you specify. Likely, you are joint owners of things like bank accounts and property. However, for anything that’s solely in your name, by giving your partner this POA, they can handle things only in your name, such as paying your taxes, for example, if you were unable to.
Having these documents in place can not only protect each of you but also help minimize conflicts with family members like parents or siblings on both sides. While these are the key estate planning tools for unmarried couples, everyone’s situation is unique. It’s important to have experienced legal guidance when drawing them up.