If you are currently in a committed relationship and are living with your partner outside the bounds of legal matrimony, you have extra incentive to have a comprehensive estate plan in place that protects you and your partner. An Oklahoma City estate planning attorney at Parman & Easterday explains why estate planning is crucial for couples who have chosen to live together and not marry.
Cohabitating Gains in Popularity
Living together without being married is becoming more and more common. What was once taboo is now commonplace. Figures released by the U.S. Census tell us that in 1968 only 0.1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 0.2 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner, according to the Current Population Survey. Those same figures show that 50 years later, in 2018, almost 10 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cohabitated and 15 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner. Even more interesting is the fact that unmarried older couples are also choosing to live together. The number of cohabitating couples over age 50 grew 75 percent in just ten years.
Why Is Estate Planning Crucial for Cohabitating Couples?
The law has a history of being slow to catch up with changes in societal norms and the concept of living together outside the bounds of matrimony is no exception to that general rule. Consequently, couples who are legally married continue to benefit from that legal union in ways that cohabitating couples cannot. Being able to say that someone is your spouse continues to open doors and confer privileges that can be crucial under a variety of circumstances. The good news is that through comprehensive estate planning you can provide your partner with essentially the same benefits without the need to legally marry, such as:
- Giving your partner the legal right to control assets for you if you become incapacitated. If you were to become incapacitated tomorrow – and the odds of that happening are likely higher than you realize — the law would not favor appointing your partner to take over control of your assets during your incapacity. Creating a revocable living trust that appoints you as the Trustee and your partner as the successor Trustee can help resolve this dilemma. Major assets are transferred into the trust and if you become incapacitated, your partner takes over as the Trustee, giving him/her control over those assets without the need to seek judicial approval.
- Ensuring that your partner inherits from your estate and making your partner the administrator of your estate. If you die without an estate plan in place the state intestate succession laws will dictate what happens to your assets and those laws distribute an estate to a decedent’s legal heirs which typically only include a spouse, children, if any, and/or close relatives. Because you are not legally married, your partner would receive nothing from your estate – not even sentimental items – no matter how long you have been together. By executing a Will and/or creating a trust you ensure that your partner is a beneficiary of your estate and receives the assets you want him/her to have after you are gone. You can also appoint your partner to be the Executor of your estate which gives him/her the authority to oversee the administration of your estate.
- Providing your partner with the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. If you are unable to make your own medical decisions at some point, someone may have to make life-sustaining, or life-ending, medical decisions for you. If you want your partner to make those decisions, you need to execute the appropriate advance directive giving him/her that authority. In the absence of such a document, a judge will be forced to decide who will be your health care agent and, once again, a legal spouse and/or close relatives will be given priority when making that decision.
Contact an Oklahoma City Estate Planning Attorney
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning for cohabitating couples, contact an experienced Oklahoma City estate planning attorney at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 to schedule your appointment today.