Estate Planning For Unmarried Couples

Ray’s Take Times change. And more couples put off getting married for numerous reasons. People are marrying at a later age and sometimes not at all. Older Americans who have been widowed or previously divorced are deciding to cohabit instead of marrying.

While there are many good reasons to make these choices, it is important to know what rights you are giving up when you choose not to marry. 

For example, legally married couples are allowed to leave their entire estate to the surviving spouse, free of estate taxes. Everyone else is subject to pay tax on amounts over the exclusion amount. State laws generally award assets to biological relatives unless there is a will or other beneficiary documentation in place. 

Additionally, should there be a medical crisis, without the proper power of attorney in place, biological relatives will make all the decisions. Be sure to title any property appropriately so that your loved one isn’t turned out of the home in the event of your death.

There is a common misperception that if you live together for a certain number of years you are married in a common-law union with all the rights of a couple that was married by license. That is not true.

Without additional planning, if one person in an unmarried couple dies, the survivor is not entitled to any benefits, notice in a probate proceeding or continuing support that is afforded to legally married spouses. 

Know the costs and benefits of your choices and do appropriate planning around them. Laws vary from state to state, so it’s important to be aware of how they work in the state where you live. If you haven’t created an estate plan, your state has a default plan for you. A good financial planner can help you create a plan that works for you.

Dana’s Take The average age for marriage is now at an all-time high: 27 for women and 29 for men, according to the 2012 American Community Survey. 

According to Pew Research Center, of all Americans ages 18-29, only 20 percent are currently married, compared with 59 percent in 1960. Delaying marriage leaves time for developing careers, exploring alternatives and developing as an individual before tying the knot.

Ray and I married after age 35, so I get it. But if you’re committed enough to share a home, wouldn’t you want to protect your partner in the event of your death or illness? In the case of your unexpected disability, wouldn’t your spouse feel more committed to care for you than a roommate would? 

For numerous legal, financial and emotional reasons, legalize that union. A lavish wedding is not required, just a trip to city hall.

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