Saturday, August 31, 2019
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples who 50 and over shot up 75% between 2007 and 2016. For many it is because they have already experienced one difficult divorce and are nervous to entangle themselves and their possessions again. But simply living together can end up being complex because estate planning laws were written to favor married couples.
If one partner has a medical emergency and has not executed a health care power of attorney, the other partner cannot make any decisions for them. They would be considered "legal strangers." If they were married, however, not having the document would not hinder the healthy partner from making appropriate choices. Unmarried couples also need to get signed HIPAA releases so medical information can be released to them. Death of one partner can also create more woes. Without the proper legal documents, the surviving partner won’t be entitled to make decisions regarding the donation of the deceased’s organs or arrange for the person’s burial or cremation.
When there is a financial imbalance and one partner has promised to take care of the other, with no trust or will in place can cause serious problems for an unmarried couple. If the wealthier one dies intestate, their assets will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of their state and an unmarried partner is not recognized as an heir. On the other hand, if they were married and died intestate in a community property state, the surviving spouse is automatically entitled to inherit as much as half the value of the deceased’s assets.
See Brad Wiewel, The Legal Dangers of Living Together, Next Avenue, August 28, 2019.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.