Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Unmarried Couples – What they need to know to protect themselves and their estates:

There are many unique issues facing unmarried couples. Just because two people chose not to marry, or may not have the legal right to marry, does not mean they are without options to protect each other with their estate planning.

As California does not recognize common law marriage nor same sex marriages, these couples do not have the same protections as legally married couples. Their partner is not considered a “next of kin” when it comes to health care, they are not a legal “heir” under the probate code, and there could be issues regarding child custody rights. Therefore, it is very important for couples to understand what their legal status as a couple is and what legal implications that may have on them.

One way cohabitating couples can protect themselves is through agreements such as Domestic Partnership or Cohabitation Agreements which act like a Prenuptial Agreement (but without the “nuptial” part). These documents clarify ownership of co-owned property, use of property, handling of debts, etc. Additionally, Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Directives are other extremely important estate planning documents that will allow couples to name who will manage their financial affairs and health care when they are no longer able to, and how their estate will be distributed after death. Children bring up a whole set of other issues, since custody and parenting rights can’t be contracted. As a result, nominations of guardianship in Wills are incredibly important.

Remember, estate plans aren’t for you; they’re for the people who depend on you. So if the law doesn’t provide you protection for each other, you need to create it through agreements and estate planning documents.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.