6 Essential Documents Every Unmarried Couple Needs
Having an estate plan is important for everyone, but it’s indispensable for unmarried partners. Suppose you’re in a committed, long-term relationship and become incapacitated or even pass away. In that case, most state laws won’t give your partner any decision-making rights or rights to your property because you aren’t legally related. These rights will fall to family members instead, and there’s no guarantee that those family members will make the decisions you’d want.
I discussed some of these problems in my recent blog post, and here I’ll lay out the specific essential documents you need to make sure your wishes are followed. You can make your wishes known and ensure your partner has decision-making authority by completing these six essential documents with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Last Will and Testament
This document, also known as a will, allows you to leave money and/or property to anyone you choose. Your will also allows you to name an executor or personal representative (the person who makes sure your will is followed properly). A will must go through a protracted legal process called probate. It is time-consuming, expensive, and public, but it ensures that your family and partner are aware of your desires. Court oversight ensures your wishes are followed, even if they include providing support for your partner or a minor child over time.
Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust (RLT) is a legal document created by you during your lifetime. Because it is revocable, you have the power to amend it at any time during your life—so long as you are competent. You can name yourself as the trustee (the person or entity who manages the money or property in the trust). You can also designate a co-trustee or alternate trustee to act as the trustee if you cannot act as trustee for any reason. Or, if you prefer, you can also choose another entity or trusted person to act as the trustee.
An RLT has several benefits:
- Allows you to continue enjoying your money and property during your lifetime.
- Determines what happens to your property upon your disability.
- Can continue providing for your partner’s living expenses even if something happens to you.
- Can include language protecting your property from your partner’s creditors or future partners.
- Doesn’t go through probate, which can save both time and money.
- Maintains your and your family’s privacy.
While similar, wills and trusts are both important parts of your estate planning. You can read more about their differences, similarities, and importance in my blog comparing wills and trusts.
In a perfect world, all of your assets would be accounted for in your will and your RLT. However, if any property or accounts are missed, your pour-over will captures the omitted property. You can make your RLT the beneficiary of your pour-over will, ensuring that all your property goes to those individuals or charities you have named in your trust document.
Financial power of attorney
This document allows you to choose a trusted person (called an agent or attorney-in-fact), such as your partner, to handle financial matters for you. You can decide when the financial power of attorney becomes effective, how long it remains effective, and what actions your agent can take on your behalf. When you choose to make your financial power attorney effective upon your incapacity, you can even outline the process that must be taken before you can be declared incapacitated.
You have the right to choose who handles financial transactions on your behalf. If you don’t have a financial power of attorney and someone needs to step in, a judge will decide for you and may choose a family member over your partner, depending on your state’s statute.
Advance Healthcare Directive
An advance healthcare directive allows you to appoint a trusted person (a/k/a agent or attorney in fact) to make healthcare decisions on your behalf, when you are unable to do so. This person may be your partner, so long as you specify that in your advance healthcare directive. Without this document, your loved ones will have to go to court and have a judge appoint someone. Depending on your state’s probate statute, without this document only a blood relative can be appointed.
The advance healthcare directive also allows you to make your wishes known, regarding end-of-life decisions. While it can be uncomfortable to think about these matters, the choices you make while competent can have a lasting effect.
First, it ensures that your partner and everyone in your family knows your desires. This can help avoid arguing, fighting, and even bitterness between your loved ones as they may disagree about what is best.
Second, if you don’t make your wishes known, someone will have to decide on your behalf. Your partner or the person appointed as your decision maker will be tasked with trying to decide what is best in the midst of grieving for you.
HIPAA authorization form
This form allows you to grant specific individuals access to your medical information, such as updates about your condition or test results. It doesn’t give any decision-making authority and only allows the release of information. By allowing loved ones and family members who aren’t your medical power of attorney to access this information, you may alleviate some anxiety and tension between them and your partner. Although only your partner will be making medical decisions, your other loved ones will understand the reasons for those decisions.
Let Me Build Your Tool Kit Today
Now is the perfect time to meet with me to build, upgrade, or update your estate planning tool kit with the essential documents you need. Give me a call today to schedule an in-person or virtual consultation!
Francine D. Ward
Attorney-At-Law, Author, Speaker