Cohabiting Seniors: Protect Your Rights

More and more seniors are living together without getting married. According to U.S. Census date, the number of cohabitating seniors nearly doubled between 1989 and 2000. For some seniors, marriage is not financially worth it or they do not want to lose their former spouses’ military pension or Social Security benefits. Other seniors do not want to have to pay their partner’s medical expenses or deal with the objections of children worried about their inheritance.

If you and your partner plan to live together without getting married, you can take a number of steps to ensure that you are protected and your wishes are followed.

Sign a cohabitation agreement. The agreement can state your intentions not to marry or to make any claims against each other. It can also specify the division of household expenses and what will happen to your house in the case of death or breakup.

Provide access to health care decision making. If you are not married, you have no right to participate in your partner’s health care decisions or even, in some circumstances, to visit your partner at the hospital. To avoid this situation, you need several documents. You can sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) medical release to allow each other access to the other’s medical information. In addition, a Power of Attorney for Health Care allowing your partner to make health care decisions will give the partner those health care decision making rights.

Sign a durable power of attorney. A Durable Power of Attorney for Property allows your partner, or whomever you appoint, to make financial decisions for you if you become incapacitated. Without a Durable Power of Attorney for Property, the court will have to appoint a guardian to make those decisions. Annual filings with the court regarding your estate’s assets will be required along with other filings with the court.

Update your will. Your will should be clear about what happens to your possessions when you die, including your house and its contents. It is particularly important to specify what will happen to your house if it is owned by only one partner.

Consult your estate planning attorney for further information.