Sometimes, people make the mistake of thinking that estate planning isn't for everyone. The truth is that most everyone needs a plan. If you are someone who is in a long-term committed relationship that exists outside of marriage, your circumstance may indicate a very powerful need to engage in detailed planning. Even if you plan on distributing all of your assets to your children or other blood relatives, your non-marital partner may still be an integral part of your planning needs and preferences. With a proper plan, you can make sure that you've done everything necessary to protect yourself, your partner and your relatives.
The diversity of types of couples relationships in this country is greater than ever. As part of that trend, there are more couples who are long-term committed pairs who, despite their status, are choosing not to marry. Some may do so for philosophical reasons. Others, including some seniors, have financial bases for doing so, as the legal consequences of marrying one's new partner may include very dire negative financial consequences.
Regardless of your reasons for not marrying, it is important not to fall into the trap of thinking that, just because you and your partner have not married, you don't need an estate plan (or plan update.) To the contrary, your status is one that strongly calls out for careful estate planning.
Part of the mistaken thinking that sometimes causes people to overlook their high need for estate planning is that they think estate planning deals with nothing more than the distribution of assets after death. This is an incorrect way to see estate planning.
Based upon this wrongfully narrow view of estate planning, you may say, “My partner and I aren't married. We are not planning to marry, and we each plan to leave our respective pools of wealth to our respective children (from previous marriages.) We couldn't possibly need estate planning.” That's a mistake because there's much more to estate planning than just post-death distribution of your wealth.
In addition to asset distribution, a careful and comprehensive estate plan also covers planning for events that may happen during your lifetime. A complete plan includes a durable power of attorney (POA) for financial decisions and a durable power of attorney for healthcare. These documents protect you in the event that you become mentally incapacitated (either temporarily or indefinitely) and cannot make decisions for yourself. Your financial POA allows the person you've designated in advance to step in and make decisions for you with regard to the management of your wealth. Your financial POA agent can carry on managing your assets and paying your bills while you are incapacitated. A healthcare POA operates similarly, allowing the person you've named in advance to make your medical and personal decisions when you cannot make them yourself. This may include decisions regarding what medical treatment you'll receive and whether or not you'll go into a nursing home.
This is an area where many unmarried people may desire to include their partners in their planning. Even if their goals are to leave all of their wealth to their children or other blood relatives, they may still prefer that their partner make financial and healthcare decisions on their behalf for any period of time during which they are incapacitated. Whether that's your objective due to your closeness to your partner or the fact that your relatives all live very far away, it is important to get that goal put down on paper in proper legal documents like powers of attorney. Without properly executed power of attorneys in place, your partner will very likely have no ability to make any decisions on your behalf if you're incapacitated.
Powers of attorney are but one of many potential areas where your status as a member of a commitment but non-marital relationship could impact your estate plan. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you identify all of your planning objectives and the best ways to accomplish all of your needs and preferences.