The Pew Research Center has found an increase in adults living with partners without getting married, from approximately four percent in the 1990s to about nine percent in the late 2010s.
For unmarried couples living together, a traditional estate plan may not be the best option. Creating an estate plan can provide safety and reassurance if the worst should happen and one of you dies or becomes incapacitated.
Why Does Estate Planning Matter for Unmarried Couples?
Estate planning is something everyone should consider, no matter their marital status. There are two key factors to remember for estate planning: the stuff and the self. An estate plan outlines what will happen to your property and yourself when you die or become incapacitated.
Married couples have these considerations covered. They can still create wills or trusts to dictate what happens to their property. But if one falls ill or passes away before they make a will, by state law, the surviving spouse will have a say in their partner’s treatment or asset distribution.
An unmarried couple may not have those options or freedoms without proper planning. For some, there could be some mild inconvenience. For others, it could radically upset their lives.
How Unmarried Couples Should Approach Estate Planning
Estate planning is essential for everyone, especially cohabiting unmarried couples, who don’t have the same rights or legal recognition married couples have. This makes creating a plan to protect your property, health, and partner critical.
1. Establishing Joint Tenancy and the Right of Survivorship
Joint tenancy is a type of ownership for two or more people to own that property together. Upon death, the surviving partner can assume control of the property. This protects the right of survivorship without the need for a will or trust. Your direct family members won’t have a claim to your property unless you designate them as beneficiaries.
There will be small details to pay attention to regarding joint tenancy, like how retirement accounts operate with unmarried couples. An experienced estate planning attorney can explain the nuances of this concept.
2. Create a Will and Designate Your Beneficiaries
Writing a will is another way to ensure your partner receives your assets upon your death. Dying without a will can leave your estate “intestate,” and the state of Georgia will oversee the succession of your property according to a standard priority of claims. Essentially, the state will distribute your assets to your living relatives in a given order once your debts have been paid.
For any property or assets you don’t own jointly and that can’t be passed through a will, you can name your partner as your beneficiary. You’ll complete a “beneficiary designation” form from institutions that hold your accounts.
3. Make Your Partner Your Attorney-in-Fact
You can designate your partner your attorney-in-fact by creating a durable power of attorney. This means they can act in your place if you fall ill or can no longer make your own decisions. This is something most married couples benefit from by default.
By creating this power of attorney, your partner can make financial and medical decisions for you.
4. Establish a Digital Estate Plan
With the increasing ubiquity of technology, you’re likely to have several online intangible properties. Social media accounts, websites, cryptocurrencies, or any digital asset should be accounted for in your list of assets.
With a digital estate plan, your partner can control your digital assets after death. An estate planning attorney can coordinate and execute this list with you.
5. Give Your Partner a Letter of Instruction
Even with careful planning, it’s still a good idea to have instructions for your partner and family to follow. You might have successfully created a digital estate plan, assigned a power of attorney, written a will, and established joint tenancy. However, a letter outlining every aspect of your estate can keep the air clear once you’ve passed.
Some relatives might assume you don’t have beneficiaries in place if you’re not married, even if you’re in a long-term and committed relationship. A letter of instruction can minimize confusion and streamline the process for everyone.
Who Can Help Unmarried Couples Plan Their Estate?
Working with an estate planning or probate attorney is a great way to set up your estate to mitigate probate issues or road bumps. A knowledgeable estate planning attorney will listen to your needs and describe your legal options to work to safeguard your loved ones’ access to the property you’ve willed them.
Your estate planning lawyer will understand Georgia’s laws and craft a plan to fit your needs. Planning your estate can be a sensitive matter, so you deserve the assistance of an attorney who can empathize with your unique situation and strategize a solution for your goals.
Get Help from a Cobb County Estate Planning Attorney
If you’ve decided that marriage isn’t in the cards for you and your partner, you should consider protecting yourself, your property, and your future together. Finding a lawyer who can handle your estate plan with poise and compassion is crucial.
The estate planning attorneys with The Gentry Law Firm have been helping clients for years. We understand how sensitive this matter can be, and we are ready to help you avoid the stress of creating an estate plan. We can help you explore your options and are ready to hear your story.