Written by Jonathan Breeden
Some couples enjoy committed relationships with no plans to marry, but share a home and have children together. Assets may have been purchased with each party providing funding. If you’re part of an unmarried couple, you don’t have the same legal protections in the event of your partner’s incapacity or death as those who are married. As important as estate planning is for everyone, it is even more so for unmarried couples in North Carolina.
If you haven’t yet created a will, you aren’t alone. A survey by the American Association of Retired People indicated more than 60% of U.S. adults have made no plans regarding their death. Experienced estate planning lawyer Jonathan Breeden can help you understand why you and your partner need wills and documents outlining your otherwise cannot take care of yourself.
When a couple is married, and a spouse dies without a will, state law provides a framework for the distribution of your estate where the surviving spouse is your heir. But when a partner in an unmarried relationship dies, no such contingencies exist. Even if you have lived with someone for many years, without proper estate planning, you could find yourself homeless if the home was titled to your partner and now belongs to their legal heirs.
Unmarried couples need several estate planning documents so that partners are properly taken care of at the time of death and have certain legal rights for health care decisions:
A valid will in North Carolina can be written or oral – though oral wills are only permitted under very limited circumstances. You must be at least 18-years-old and of sound mind. In addition, the will must be intentionally signed, meaning you can’t be tricked into it. At least two witnesses are needed. Making sure that a will is legally valid is an important part of your estate planning. That’s why consulting an estate planning lawyer is necessary.
A common part of a will includes the name of an executor, who is an individual that will administer your estate after your death. The executor of your estate can be your partner. Another important part of a will is selecting a beneficiary. You can be specific, such as giving a family heirloom to a child, or more general, such as bequeathing the entire estate to your partner.
An important part your will might include provisions about guardianship if you have minor children. The provision would only be triggered in the event both parents perish. If that occurred, the guardian would take custody of the children.
You may know or read about someone who had heart-wrenching experiences related to a partner’s end of life because there were no clear health care directives. The family might have insisted on resuscitating an individual, while the unmarried partner argued for no measures to be taken. Ultimately, if you are not married, you have no legal say regarding your partner’s care. By working with an estate planning lawyer, you and your partner can give each other peace of mind about end of life matters. A living will plainly sets forth your wishes should you be unable to communicate them.
Unmarried couples need a power of attorney (POA). With a POA, you can legally make decisions just the same as if you were married or were next of kin. With a healthcare POA, for example, your partner can handle your medical decisions, such as authorizing emergency surgery. If your situation warrants, you may discuss with an estate planning lawyer whether you should execute a general power of attorney. A general POA gives the holder greater legal authority, and can be tailored to specific types of decisions.
Unmarried couples do not enjoy some of the legal protections that come with marriage, such as your assets passing automatically to a spouse if you die without a will. Proper estate planning will provide peace of mind to you and your partner. An attorney at Breeden Law Office can draft the documents needed to protect your assets and provide for your partner.