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Rights can become complicated, if there is no estate plan or will.

If you and your partner are an unmarried couple, there’s a good chance you are going to face some difficulties when it comes to medical decisions and legal rights over property, unless you have an estate plan and will, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel in “Longtime unmarried couple hasn’t planned for future“.

The couple may be pleased with their decision to live on their own terms. However, by refusing to plan for the inevitable, they are creating an unnecessary difficulty for their loved ones. The children and grandchildren of the couple are likely going to end up having to sort out the mess after one of the couple dies. They may end up in court, battling over the house or other assets.

If the couple wants their property to end up in the hands of their children when they pass away, having no estate plan is not the way to make that happen. When one spouse dies, any assets they own in joint tenancy will go to the surviving partner. When the surviving partner passes, those assets will go to their children, and nothing will be passed to the other family.

The surviving partner will have no legal right to the assets of the deceased partner, other than any that have been titled to joint tenancy. There is no community property between cohabitating couples, unless they have registered as domestic partners. This is how the law works in California, and every state has its own rules. Assets owned by the deceased partner that are titled in his or her name only belong to the decedent’s probate estate and will pass to their children. After the death of the first partner, will his companion be left homeless?

This situation can be easily avoided with an estate plan, creating wills and trusts that clearly spell out how the couple wants their assets to be distributed upon death. There are many different ways to make this happen, but they will need to work with an estate planning attorney. Where the surviving non-homeowner will live after the homeowner dies is a serious issue, unless other plans have been made. One way to do this is for the homeowner to include a life estate for the non-homeowner or by creating a trust that holds the home for the non-homeowner’s use. When the non-homeowner dies, the home can then pass to the homeowner’s children. In that case, a series of agreements about how the home will be maintained may need to be created.

An estate planning attorney can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your particular circumstances.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (April 7, 2019) “Longtime unmarried couple hasn’t planned for future

For more information on asset preservation and estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.