A number of couples, including some who have been together for many years, choose not to legally marry for a variety of personal and financial reasons. Sometimes older couples decide against marriage because they don’t want to affect their children’s inheritance. There are others who don’t want to deal with the legalities of marriage. Some people would lose social security benefits or pension if they decide to remarry.
It is extremely important for couples who are not married to make their wishes clear in their estate planning documents when it comes to the rights and responsibilities they want their significant other to have. A non-married partner doesn’t have the same legal rights that a married spouse has. A significant other does not have a statutory priority to serve as a personal representative or executor for the estate of their partner, statutory right to inherit their partner’s property, priority to make disposition of their partner’s last remains, or priority to act as their partner’s guardian or conservator should they become incapacitated or disabled. There is also no requirement to give notice of withholding of life support for a non-married significant other. However, anyone may execute estate planning documents so that their significant other will have these legal rights.
An unmarried individual will want to make sure to execute a will, a health care power of attorney, a general durable power of attorney, and a living will to protect their significant other. A Last Will and Testament designates an executor to be in charge of one’s estate, and it also designates who will inherit which assets from this estate. No assets will pass to your significant other (unless they are owned jointly or you have named them as a beneficiary) without a will.
A health care power of attorney and a general durable power of attorney both name someone to make decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated or disabled. Unless you have named your significant other as your agent, they will not have priority to act for you upon a disability. If you prepare estate planning documents ahead of time, they may prevent unnecessary arguments between family members and your significant other.
It can be more challenging for unmarried couples to create an estate plan, but an attorney can help you in this process. Planning ahead and preparing these documents sooner rather than later can help both partners feel more comfortable. Keep in mind that these documents can be changed or revoked as long as both partners have the capacity to make decisions for themselves. These documents should also be reviewed often, especially following any major life event or change.
For help with your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.