Estate Planning for the Unmarried

Wills are often regarded as the most reliable way to safeguard our assets after we pass away by passing them on to our children and spouses. However, though we tend to think that estate planning is only a matter of concern for married couples and those with children, the reality is that any person with assets should consider creating an estate plan, regardless of their marital status.

Estate Planning for Unmarried People


Have A Power of Attorney In Place

It is no secret that, as human beings, we are prone to accidents and thus it is necessary to have someone in place who can temporarily manage our legal and financial affairs on our behalf. A Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal document which authorizes someone else to take specific actions on your behalf. If you become incapacitated, however, or pass away, the power of attorney expires. After that, only the executor of your estate can handle your legal and financial matters, though you do have the option of naming the same person as your power of attorney and executor. A durable power of attorney remains valid even if you become incapacitated, or unable to make critical decisions on your own behalf. A financial durable power of attorney designates a person to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated, and a medical durable power of attorney allows someone to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. If you are unmarried but in a relationship, you can designate your partner as your power of attorney. If you do not have a power of attorney, the court will appoint a guardian to supervise these matters for you.

Protect Your Assets With A Living Together Agreement

Another option available to unmarried couples is to have a living together agreement. A living together agreement is a type of cohabitation agreement that helps protect the rights of couples while safeguarding their individual interests and assets. Living together agreements can include property owned by one or both partners, property that existed before the relationship but is now used by both partners, and other belongings such as cars, pets, furniture, and much more. The main objective of the living together agreement is to prevent conflict over ownership in the event of a split.

Another Option – Name Your Partner In Your Will

It is also possible to name your partner as a beneficiary in your will if you would like your assets to be transferred to the survivor if one of you passes away. As always, in the complete absence of a will, your assets will be subject to intestate succession. Additionally, it is important to know that by default, a person’s assets can only be transferred to direct, blood-related family members when a will has not been drafted. A non-family member, such as an unmarried partner, is not eligible to receive any portion of your assets through probate. Therefore, you must name your partner as a beneficiary on your will if you would like for them to receive a cut.

Transfer Your Assets Without Going Through Probate

One way to bypass probate is to establish joint tenancy with right of survivorship over major assets. This ensures that if one owner dies, all of the jointly owned property will automatically be transferred to the surviving owner without going through probate. In order to do this, both of your names need to be present on the asset’s official title document, such as the deed to your home. Unfortunately, issues may arise with this method if your joint owner misuses your assets or passes away before or at the same time as you.

Another way to avoid probate is to create a revocable living trust. A revocable living trust specifies how you want your assets to be handled during your lifetime and after your death. In addition to being able to designate a trustee to oversee the conditions of the trust you can also be your own trustee while you are alive, but in this case, you would need to name a successor trustee, a person you trust to continue to uphold your wishes after your death. The trust will help protect your assets from you and any creditors seeking to acquire your assets. Additionally, the assets in the trust would not have to go through probate since their ownership technically remains unchanged. It is generally recommended to use living trusts in conjunction with wills.

Although estate planning is commonly portrayed as an essential tool for traditional families, there is no reason that singles or unmarried couples shouldn’t have a proper estate plan as well. The aforementioned documents help ensure that trustworthy and responsible people will handle your health and financial matters in case of emergencies, possibly help you avoid the costly and time-consuming process of probate, and make sure that your estate is fairly divided. If you or a loved one are currently in a “living together but not married” situation,  it is highly recommended that you consult with a licensed estate planning attorney who can guide you through the process of making sure your assets are dealt with properly after you pass away.