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Estate planning Is essential for unmarried partners so they can provide important protections for a surviving partner and/or any minor children.

Myth #1: When I die, my partner that I am not married to can continue living in our home.

Fact: At your death, the only ways that your partner can continue living in the home are if: 1) your partner’s name is on the deed, 2) you owned the home and you executed a beneficiary deed or ladybird deed giving the home to your partner upon your death, 3) you owned the home and you named your partner as the recipient of your home in your will, or 4) your home is owned by your revocable living trust, and you named your partner as the recipient of your home or allow your partner to stay in the home for the remainder of your partner’s life.

If the home you live in is in your name alone and you fail to do any of these options, your home will be given to your family according to state law, leaving your partner homeless. If your partner wants to keep living in the home, your partner would have to rent or purchase the home from your family during the probate process. This assumes that your family would want to rent or sell your home to your partner; they are under no obligation to do so.

Myth #2: To properly protect my partner, I should just add my partner to the title of all of my accounts and property.

Fact: While adding your partner as a joint owner of your accounts and property is an easy way to guarantee that your partner will automatically become the sole owner without any involvement by the probate court, this option is not without its shortcomings. Because your partner will become the sole owner at your death, your partner gets to choose what will happen to the accounts and property upon their death, not you. You have to trust that your partner will make a decision you would have agreed with. In addition, once your partner becomes a joint owner of the account or property, your partner’s debts become your problem. Should your partner be subject to a creditor claim or lawsuit, your jointly-owned account or property could be seized to satisfy any outstanding judgment.

Question #1: Can my partner inherit from me if we are not married?

Answer: If you are not married, your partner can inherit from you, but only if you proactively create an estate plan. If you do not do any estate planning, your state’s intestacy statute will determine who will receive your money and property, as well as the amount each legal heir will receive. Generally speaking, because the exact scheme is very state-specific, your money and property will go first to your surviving spouse (if you are married), then to your descendants (children or grandchildren), your parents, your siblings, and your siblings’ children, in that order, depending on who survives you. If the state law governs your estate plan, your partner will receive nothing because the state law does not include unmarried partners in their plan.

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Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker

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