More and more people in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are choosing to alter the way in which they express their commitment to a partner. Rather than taking the traditional path of marriage, many couples choose to live together in a family structure outside of marriage. Regardless of the reasons behind such a choice, it is important to note that unmarried couples do not share the same rights as those who choose to walk down the aisle. This is especially true in regard to estate planning.
For example, many people go through one marriage and divorce and decide that they do not want to encounter that particular set of legal difficulties in the future. They may go on to live within a fulfilling and loving relationship for many years, purchasing property together, planning for retirement and generally combining resources. However, if one partner dies without a clear estate plan in place, much of the couple’s shared property could be subject to loss during the probate process.
In the absence of an estate plan, a probate court will be tasked with determining how to distribute the decedent’s assets according to state laws of intestacy. The law generally favors surviving blood relatives over unmarried partners, although each case is unique. In the worst case scenario, an individual could lose assets that he or she helped to acquire, all because there is no written legal directive to make the decedent’s final wishes clear to the court.
In order to protect each other, unmarried partners should take the time to create a simple estate planning package. This begins with a will and the appropriate power of attorney documents. From that point, Pennsylvania couples can decide if a mix of trusts, life insurance and beneficiary designations will provide the intended level of protection.
Source: The Huffington Post, “Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples“, Alexandra Smyser, Sept. 10, 2015