In today’s day and age, marriage is not the only way for couples to stay under one roof. In fact, data from the U.S. Census Bureau says that the number of adults who live cohabit together is 29% more than what it used to be in 2007 – and over a half of this percentage is aged 35 and younger.
Just like marriage, cohabitation has a profound effect on estate planning – albeit one that is markedly different from that of married couples. Given that there is no set legal system in place for those who cohabit (as opposed to marriage), it is important to understand how estate plan would work in such situations, and how couples who cohabit can take advantage of benefits afforded by married couples such as social security, right to property, inheritance and decision making privilege, among others.
Here are key elements that unmarried couples must consider when making their estate plan:
Avoid probate by re-titling your real estate:
In general, having a sound estate plan helps you make sure that your assets will remain safe, avoid probate, and go to those you wish to with no hassles. This applies even more so in case you are cohabiting – in the absence of proper legal documents, your assets would fall under intestacy laws, and your near and dear would all have to go through the long-drawn system of probate.
While there is always a chance for your property to ultimately by subjected to probate, there are things you can do to avoid the undesirable situation as much as possible. You can start by transferring your property to a joint trust with your partner. That way, if you die or become incapacitated before them, your partner would be able to administer the estate in the capacity of a successor trustee.
Secondly, you can enter into joint tenancy along with your partner. This is a special kind of ownership wherein two or more people can own a property collectively – even if they are not related by blood or marriage. If one of the tenant dies, their interest immediately passes on to the surviving tenant(s).
Name your partner as your Attorney-in-Fact:
The Power of Attorney is the most essential and critical of all estate planning tools that you must have. This is one document that affects you throughout your lifetime, as opposed to others, which affect others and only after you are dead. By using a Power of Attorney to appoint your partner as an ‘Attorney-in-Fact, you can make sure that they have the power to act on your behalf in legal, medical and financial matters – when you are unable to make decisions for yourself. Additionally, you should add your partner and give them the power to make end-of-life decisions by appointing them as your proxy via an Advance Directive for Health Care document.
Appoint your partner as your “pay-on-death” beneficiary:
For those who are technically not married, financial and legal instruments (such as will and estate plans, bank accounts, insurance policies, and retirement plans) give you the option to at least one individual – in this case, your partner as a “pay-on-death” beneficiary. This allows your partner to receive your assets after your death automatically – even if you are not married. So for instance, if your partner is listed as the pay-on-death beneficiary of your bank account, all he or she has to do is take a copy of your death certificate, along with a proof of their identity. The bank will then re-title the account to their name or transfer the funds to their account.
Include your digital assets in your estate plan:
The touch of technology has altered the whole world we live in – and estate planning is no exception. With the rise of technology has risen the amount of online “assets,” namely social media accounts, e-mail accounts, websites, and even finance in the shape of cryptocurrencies. It is, therefore, essential for you to include said digital properties your estate plan and make sure that your representatives have the access to take actions to reassign and/or delete your online accounts after you pass away.
Write detailed instructions for your partner:
A lot needs to be done when someone passes away – from things as sensitive as distribution of assets to those as seemingly mundane and simple and paying pending bills and turning off subscriptions. Writing a letter of instruction for your partner to tell them (or, alternatively, any other representatives) all the things they should know regarding managing your estate. This includes handling bills, canceling services and/or subscriptions, handling personal effects and making sure that certain members of the family and friends are notified.
Having such instructions in hand will make executing them a much simpler task for your partner and/or other representatives to manage all of your affairs after your passing.