Once upon a time, living together outside the bounds of matrimony was considered scandalous. Today, however, more and more couples are choosing to cohabit prior to, or in lieu of, marriage. If you are one of those couples and live in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill or surrounding areas, an estate planning attorney at Clarity Legal Group can guide you through the issues which might impact unmarried partners living together.
Living Together Gains Popularity
Figures released by the U.S. Census tell us that in 1968 only 0.1 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 0.2 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner, according to the Current Population Survey. Those same figures show that 50 years later, in 2018, almost 10 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds cohabited and 15 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds lived with an unmarried partner. Even more interesting is the fact that unmarried older couples are also choosing to live together. The number of cohabiting couples over age 50 grew 75 percent in just ten years.
Why Is Estate Planning Essential for Cohabiting Couples?
Although most of society in general now accepts unmarried couples living together, the law has yet to catch up, as is often the case. Couples who are legally married continue to benefit from the law in ways not available to cohabiting couples. Being able to say that someone is your spouse continues to open doors and confer privileges that can be crucial under a variety of circumstances. The good news is that through comprehensive estate planning you can provide your partner with essentially the same benefits without the need to legally marry. For example:
- You can designate your partner as the person you want to take over control of your assets if you become incapacitated. If you were to become incapacitated tomorrow – and the odds of that happening are likely higher than you realize — the law would not favor appointing your partner to take over control of your assets during your incapacity. Creating a revocable living trust that appoints you as the Trustee and your partner as the successor Trustee can help resolve this dilemma. Major assets are transferred into the trust and if you become incapacitated, your partner takes over as the Trustee, giving him/her control over those assets without the need to seek judicial approval. Assets which are not appropriately held under a Living Trust can be managed by naming your partner as Agent under a durable power of attorney.
- Naming your partner as a beneficiary of your estate and appointing him/her to oversee the administration of your estate. If you die without an estate plan in place the state intestate succession laws will dictate what happens to your assets and those laws distribute an estate to a decedent’s legal heirs which might include a spouse, parents or children. Because you are not legally married, your partner would receive nothing from your estate – not even sentimental items – no matter how long you have been together. By executing a Will or creating a trust you ensure that your partner is a beneficiary of your estate and receives the assets you want your partner to have after you are gone. You can also appoint your partner to be the Executor of your estate which gives him/her the authority to oversee the administration of your estate.
- Naming your partner as the person you want to make healthcare decisions for you if you cannot make them yourself. If you are unable to make your own medical decisions at some point, someone may have to make life-sustaining, or life-ending, medical decisions for you. If you want your partner to make those decisions, you need to execute the appropriate advance directive giving him/her that authority. In the absence of such a document, a judge will be forced to decide who will be your health care agent and, once again, a legal spouse and/or close relatives will be given priority when making that decision.
- Maintaining a home together. If you, your partner or the two of you together own a home, how will you manage the cost of maintaining and improving that home over the years? If you separate, how will the contribution of the non-owner spouse be recognized and accounted for? This can be accounted for in a property agreement which the estate planning attorneys at Clarity Legal Group can prepare. Certainly if the owner partner dies, you would not want the other to be without a place to live. This may mean a Will or Living Trust which transfers the house to the partner or may mean an ongoing trust arrangement under which the partner may live in the house as long as needed, but under which someone else inherits the house after neither partner needs the property as a home.
Contact a Chapel Hill Estate Planning Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning for unmarried couples in Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough, Holly Springs, Apex, Garner, Fuquay Varina, Pittsboro, Morrisville, Clayton, Wake Forest, Knightdale, or other places near the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, please contact an estate planning attorney at Clarity Legal Group. Telephone us at 919-484-0012 or contact us online.
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