6 Risks for Couples Living Together without Marrying
By Solid Serenity Legal Solutions
More and more couples today are choosing to live together without marrying. According to 2010 U.S Census data, more than 7.5 million couples in the U.S. lived together and chose not to marry.
While there may be emotional and other benefits to couples living together without the legal attachments of marriage, current U.S. laws favor marriage. Though favorable laws shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether you get hitched, if you are part of a couple, you should be aware of the possible pitfalls of remaining unmarried so you can plan for them.
Here are 6 risks for couples living together without marrying.
A very unromantic, but important consideration for unmarried couples is what happens when one person can no longer make his or her own decisions. In Oklahoma, the only person who can legally step in to make medical and financial decisions for another person is an attorney-in-fact designated in a Durable Power of Attorney.
Realistically, sometimes medical providers will defer to the judgment of a spouse or children when making medical plans for a patient. But, if you are an unmarried couple, chances of that happening are slim.
If you are an unmarried couple, consider whether you want to have a Durable Power of Attorney in place for you and your significant other.
(2) Unequal Assets
Similarly, if you have a partnership where one partner makes a substantial income and agrees to help support the other, you will want to consider a financial Durable Power of Attorney.
If something were to happen to the higher-income-earning partner, the other partner has no access to their financial records and assets unless they are co-owners of the accounts.
If no documents are in place, the partner would have to file for a Guardianship with the Court. A Guardianship proceeding requires notice to family members and family members are given priority over a domestic partner in court, unless a Durable Power of Attorney is in place.
Unmarried couples will need HIPAA releases to access their partner’s medical records. Make sure this document is part of your estate plan.
(4) Wills and Trusts
When a person dies without a Will or Trust, the Court has statutes that determine who will act on the Estate’s behalf and who will receive an inheritance from the Estate. A marriage license allows a partner to have priority and certain rights to assets under the law.
If a couple isn’t married, however, there are generally no rights available to the surviving partner without a Will and/or Trust. In Oklahoma we do recognize common law marriages, but they require very specific criteria to meet the standard. It is far less expensive to set up official estate planning documents than to pay an attorney to prove you were common-law married in a Court proceeding.
(5) This Old House
What about the home you’re living in? Whose name is the house titled in? If you are not listed as joint owners with rights of survivorship, and you may not be for many different, valid reasons, or the house is not titled in a Trust, the house will likely have to go through probate.
If you are an unmarried couple, consider establishing a Trust to make sure your partner has access to the home for as long as you see proper, or prepare a Transfer on Death Deed to leave the property to the other partner in the case of the death of the owner.
Many assets have beneficiary designations. The most common are life insurance policies and retirement accounts. But, bank accounts allow you to name beneficiaries as well.
If there is no Trust and no beneficiary named on an account, that account will have to go through probate. Then, the account will pass either according to the Will, or according to the state’s probate laws.
If you want to protect your domestic partner, call an estate planning attorney to ensure all your documents are properly prepared for your situation.