Marriage isn’t the end goal of every relationship: many unmarried couples live together in long-term partnerships. While marriage automatically grants certain rights, such as inheritance rights, many of the same goals can be accomplished with estate planning.
Keep in mind that Ohio no longer recognizes common law marriages after to October 1991, although they will still honor any common law marriage established and recognized in another state. Even if you’ve been cohabitating and consider yourselves as married, if you don’t meet either of the previously mentioned conditions, you could leave your partner without a right to inherit, manage finances or act as a healthcare power of attorney.
Here are some critical items to consider when estate planning as an unmarried couple.
First, make sure you have a will. Wills allow you to distribute your property as you wish, so long as it’s legally enforceable. (For example, you cannot leave your estate to your pets, but you can designate funds for the pet’s care.) Without a will, your assets will be distributed according to Ohio state intestacy laws, which will bypass your unmarried partner.
Next, make sure you list your partner as a beneficiary on your retirement and bank accounts, as well as any life insurance policies you have. This will allow the funds to automatically pass to your partner, without going through probate.
Finally, consider using trusts to protect your assets and ensure your partner gets all of your shared property.
If you become incapacitated, having a medical and financial power of attorney allows a trusted person (typically your partner) to make healthcare and financial decisions on your behalf. For example, if you’re in a coma, your partner would be able to access your funds to pay the mortgage and carry out your healthcare wishes.
Your estate planning attorney may also recommend you create an advance healthcare directive, which clearly sets out your healthcare preferences if you cannot make the decision on your own.
Finally, if either of you have minor children from a previous relationship, but would like your partner to remain their caretaker after you die, you’ll need to make provisions in your will. Otherwise, your family will have priority over an unmarried partner.
These are just a few of the top considerations when estate planning as an unmarried couple. Your needs may vary depending on your individual circumstances. For your own comprehensive estate plan, call James Bart Leonardi, LLC today.