Couples who are living together but are not married need to think about estate planning just like anyone else. If you are married, many of your estate planning rights and abilities are automatically changed simply because of your marital status. Couples who live together outside of marriage, on the other hand, do not have the same rights as their married counterparts. This is true even if you have children together or have been together for decades. So today we thought we would take a look at some estate planning concerns that affect couples who are living together but who are not married.
Estate Plans When you are Living Together
As long as you are a capable adult you can craft an estate plan at any time. If you are living together in a romantic relationship but are not married, your need to craft an estate plan is doubly important. This is because the law does not afford you the same rights it affords married couples. Take the issue of inheritance. If you are married, you and your spouse automatically have the right to inherit property from the other person upon that person’s death. How much or what is inherited will change from situation to situation and state to state, but there is almost always some entitlement. The same is not true if you are living together outside of marriage. Even if you are in a committed relationship, have been together for years, or have expressed the desire to leave an inheritance to a partner should something happen to you, the law does not recognize inheritance rights of non-married partners. Fortunately, you can make the decision to give your partner inheritance rights by crafting an estate plan. Other rights, such as the right to make medical decisions, can also be protected by crafting a plan that makes your wishes not only known, but legally enforceable.
Living Together and Common-Law Marriage
The issue of common-law marriage is one of the most widely misunderstood ideas in the legal field today. Many couples who are living together outside of marriage believe they will become common-law husband and wife if they stay together for seven years, nine years, or some other length of time. While becoming a married couple through common law is possible in the states of Kansas and Oklahoma, you do not become a married couple simply by living together for a certain number of years. Courts and other legal authorities will consider a number of other indicators – “holding yourself out” as a married couple, introducing your mate as your “husband” or “wife”, categorizing your mate as your “spouse” on health insurance applications, securing spousal benefits from your employer’s benefit plans, listing your mate as “spouse” on beneficiary designations, owning joint bank accounts, joint property ownership and so forth – before they declare a common law marriage. In most jurisdictions there is little chance of a “default” common-law marriage simply by cohabitating or being a couple, regardless of how long you are together.
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