Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples in Florida
According to WFSU News, nearly 600,000 unmarried couples are living together in Florida as of December 2013. Nationwide, approximately 6.7 unmarried couples live together, per U.S. News. The rights of unmarried couples vary from state to state, but, generally speaking, unmarried couples are considered to be unrelated under the law regardless of relationship length or sexual orientation. Therefore, while estate planning is important for everyone, it may be especially important for unmarried couples, who do not enjoy the same legal protections married couples enjoy.
Many people mistakenly believe that estate planning is only for the wealthy, but that common misconception can have serious consequences. The illness, disability or death of one partner could rob the other partner of important decision-making power and leave that partner vulnerable to the loss of property and/or assets. Additionally, unmarried couples could benefit from other documents that explicitly outline their rights while together or in the event of separation.
U.S. News suggests that unmarried couples should consider the following documents and provisions in order to protect themselves and ensure their wishes are carried out.
A will is a document in which a person specifies how his or her estate will be managed and distributed after death. It also designates someone to carry out those wishes. If a person does not leave a will, or if the will is declared invalid, that person’s estate will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of the person’s state of residency.
A living trust is a generic name for any trust that comes into existence during the lifetime of the person creating the trust. If property is held in a trust, it passes to heirs without going through probate. Probate is a court procedure, and assets are frozen while probate is underway; therefore, trusts save time and money.
Beneficiary Designations on Retirement Accounts
Property in retirement accounts passes directly to beneficiaries—again, without going through probate. A person’s beneficiary (or beneficiaries) will inherit that person’s accounts.
Durable Power of Attorney
With a durable power of attorney, one person can appoint another person to handle his or her affairs (make decisions, sign documents, etc.) in the event that he or she becomes incompetent. The document can confer either general power or power in limited circumstances. No judicial proceedings are necessary, which saves the parties time and money.
Health Care Surrogate
A healthcare surrogate can be designated to make health care decisions for another person in the event that person is determined to be unable to provide informed consent for medical treatment and surgical and diagnostic procedures.
Living Will or Advance Directive
A living will or advance directive is a written document in which a patient gives instructions about medical treatment to be administered when that patient is permanently unconscious or terminally ill.
A directive outlining what the deceased wants and who should make arrangements can prevent problems in the event that funeral directors and/or family members are hesitant to allow unmarried partners to make arrangements.
Life insurance is an important consideration for unmarried couples, as the surviving partner may be unable to pay expenses by himself or herself.
Domestic Partner Agreement
A domestic partner agreement outlines how assets and income will be managed during the relationship and in the event that the relationship ends.
Whatever reasons a couple has for not getting married, it is important that each partner makes his or her intentions known. Consulting with an attorney at the Boca Raton based Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, P.A. about estate planning will help ensure that unmarried couples’ wishes are honored.
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