“First comes love, then comes marriage…” is an old adage that no longer rings true in today’s society. Couples who are in committed, long term relationships do not always marry, for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps one partner, or both, have been married before and do not wish to marry again. Maybe marriage is not an important matter to the couple and they do not see it as a step that will either add to or detract from their relationship. There may even be financial reasons a couple decides not to become legally married – such as the debt of one partner, or health concerns that may result in medical bills the “healthy” partner does not want to become jointly and severally liable for. There doesn’t even have to be a reason justifying the decision not to marry. The reality is that it is not uncommon that I sit down with couples who have been together for decades, but have not married and do not intend to marry.
For these couples, estate planning is extremely important if they wish to provide for their partner should they predecease him or her. Our laws are frequently written in favor of marriage, and this is true when it comes to inheritance laws. If someone dies without a will or estate plan in place, the laws of the state they reside in will decide who inherits their assets.
Generally speaking, the laws of Minnesota give spouses and children top priority for inheritance rights should their spouse/parent die without a will or estate plan. Unmarried couples are generally not recognized as spouses in Minnesota, meaning they could be left unprovided for if no planning was done ahead of time. In order to be given the same legal rights that married couples receive automatically in terms of inheritance rights, unmarried couples need to do special planning in order to protect, and provide for, each other.
The following are basic estate planning documents that unmarried couples should consider having in place in order to guarantee the surviving partner is protected and provided for.
- A Will
A will allows you to name who should inherit your property and assets when you pass away, who you want to be the personal representative of your estate, and who will become guardian of any minor children. An unmarried partner does not have inheritance rights, so any property owned solely by the deceased partner will be passed, under state law, to family members. The personal representative of an estate is the individual who will settle the estate – paying debts, gathering assets and making distributions to named beneficiaries. Many couples choose to name their partner for such roles and in the instance of unmarried couples, it is important this be named in a will because without it, a court will make the appointment.
- A Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document in which you can name who is authorized to act as your “attorney in fact” and manage/control your finances should you be unable to do so. Without this document in place, it is nearly impossible for an unmarried partner to manage the incapacitated partner’s financial affairs without going through a lengthy and costly guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
- A Health Care Directive
A health care directive allows individuals to name who they authorize to act as their “health care agent” and make medical decisions on his or her behalf in the event they are unable to make such decisions for themselves. It also allows the individual making the health care directive to provide instruction as to what their wishes are regarding their health care in varying scenarios. Without this document in place, an unmarried partner may again be facing a lengthy and costly guardianship proceeding.
Having an estate plan in place is arguably more important for unmarried couples than for those who are married. Without such planning in place, there oftentimes is undue hardship, expense and aggravation that could all be avoided with the proper planning in place. Completing you estate plan with Schromen Law, LLC is a straight-forward and manageable process, affording you the peace of mind of knowing you have planned for the worst, so that you can continue living for the best.
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.