In today's world, there are all kinds of reasons why a committed couple may decide not to get married. Maybe you have been married before, and it's not a ritual you are eager to repeat. Maybe you and your partner have been together for years, and it's just something that hasn't happened yet. Maybe you like keeping things like assets, debts, and the “business side” of couplehood separate. Whatever the reason, choosing to remain unmarried does not mean that you are any less committed to your partner. And it doesn't make you any less interested in providing for him or her in the future.
Estate planning is not just for married couples. In fact, it may be even more important for those who choose to remain unmarried. Why? Because the default laws in the State of Maryland do not provide legal rights and protections to unmarried partners. A well-drafted estate plan, however, can do just that.
An Estate Plan is Essential for Unmarried Couples
Let's walk through a scenario:
Say you are on your way to work one morning, and you are hit by another driver who was looking down at their phone while driving (we know this is an all-too-common scenario). Your car is totaled, and the paramedics believe you may have sustained a concussion in the accident. You are transported to the nearest hospital. As a result of the concussion, you find yourself unable to communicate your wishes and needs to hospital staff. Eventually, someone calls your long-term partner, and he rushes to the hospital. However, he is denied entry to your room. Even though he is listed as your emergency contact in hospital records, there is no updated HIPAA Authorization in the file. That means that your medical caregivers aren't authorized to discuss your condition with him. He is left in the waiting room, not knowing how severe your injuries may be or whether you are going to be ok. If we take the scenario a step further and presume your injuries were more severe, without an Advance Medical Directive, your doctor will not know your medical preferences. Your partner will not be able to communicate your wishes on your behalf. And, if it came down to it, your end-of-life preferences would not be given any credence.
While you are incapacitated at the hospital, life goes on. If the house where you live with your partner is in your name, he may have a difficult time keeping things afloat without you around. He may not be able to speak with the cable company, to pay the mortgage, to access your bank account for bills. Executing Power of Attorney is the only way that a nonmarital partner would be empowered to step in as a legal and financial proxy.
To take things still another step forward, let's say you pass away as a result of your injuries in the hospital. You have no Will or Revocable Living Trust, so the duties of managing your estate fall to your next of kin, likely a parent or sibling. Suddenly, it seems to your partner like your relationship meant nothing at all: he is not included in decisions about your funeral arrangements, he can't access your assets to wrap up your affairs, he may even be asked to leave the home where you both lived because he has no legal claim to it.
If You Have Children, The Stakes are Even Higher
The stakes become even higher if you have children from outside of your partnership. Whether your children are minors (for whom guardianship and an ongoing relationship with your partner are important to manage) or adults (whose financial and inheritance interests must be balanced with your partner's), a comprehensive estate plan is the only way to go. You can use your Will to express guardianship preferences for minor children and to include your nonmarital partner in inheriting assets from your estate. A Revocable Living Trust can offer even more control. You can provide specifically for the needs of your partner and of your children, you can pass ownership of big things (like your home) directly to your partner, and you even can include contingencies for the future (such as, your partner shall remain in control of the home until his passing, at which time it will transfer for the benefit of your children).
Don't “Wait and See” Until it's Too Late
The main thing is, your estate plan should be as unique and special as the relationship you share with your partner. Your family structure and marital status should have no bearing on the safety and security of your loved ones. Unfortunately, without an estate plan, the ones you love most and choose day after day will end up losing out. At The Tyra Law Firm, we take the time to get to know our clients and their unique lives. We don't use run-of-the-mill, generic documents like you might find online. Our experienced team sits down with each of our clients individually, takes a close look at your unique circumstances and preferences, and carefully tailors an estate plan just for you. Things might change in the future? Of course they will! That's why we continue to work with our clients long after their initial documents are drafted. We get your estate plan up and running now (because you never know when you might need it), and then we support its continued growth and evolution as your family changes over time. Ready to get started? Give our office a call at (301) 315-0811.