Many couples still choose marriage as a way to profess their love and protect their partner's interests. However, the number of people choosing to say "I do," has been steadily declining since the 1980s. While some may point to the increasing rate of divorces, we find that civil unions and domestic partnerships are simply becoming more popular. That said, married and unmarried couples alike should be able to protect their loved ones and their assets should they pass away. With that in mind, today we'll discuss 3 estate planning tips for unmarried couples including how you can dictate where your solely owned property goes upon your death rather than waiting for state laws to step in.
Did You Know?
Without a valid will, North Carolina state law will dictate where your assets go upon your death. Unfortunately, this often means that they won't go to your unmarried partner. Rather, any property you have will be inherited by your closest relatives including any children you may have or your parents.
On a similar note, unmarried couples have no legal standing when it comes to expressing each other's end-of-life medical care unless you've legally appointed them with a valid power of attorney to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Estate Planning Tips #1 Write a Will to Maintain Control of Your Assets
Rather than let the state decide what happens with your end-of-life care or your assets, write a will so that you can maintain control of those decisions. This allows you to explicitly choose who you leave your property to, whether that be your partner, friends, charitable organization, family, or otherwise.
According to North Carolina State Law, if you choose not to write a will, and you don't have children, anything you leave behind will likely go to your last living relatives, which often includes your parents or siblings.
Estate Planning Tips #2 Name a Guardian for Your Young Children
Building on our previous point, if you do have young children, it's important to name a guardian for your children within the will should you (or both parents) pass away before those children become legal adults. In fact, this is actually the number one reason that most people create a will.
A will not only describes how you want to provide for your family financially but also explains what you want to happen to your children if they are under the age of 18. Creating a will allows you to name guardians for your children should you and the other parent die or become incapacitated. It also provides you with an opportunity to talk with the chosen guardians to ensure that they are willing to take on the responsibility.
If a will is not in place, the court will appoint someone on your behalf. While this can be a rather straightforward process, we've met with far too many people to know that appointing a guardian for young children can evoke a lot of emotion, turmoil, and pain from family members. Losing a parent is enough for a child to deal with - they shouldn't also have to live through the process of figuring out who they'll live with now.
We find that many of our clients choose to include a personal letter along with their will that explains to the court why they've chosen a particular person to raise their children.
Estate Planning Tips #3 Create a Living Trust
Alternatively, for unmarried couples in North Carolina, you may choose to leave your assets to each other with a living trust. A living trust for legal purposes performs the same essential functions as a will but allows the surviving partner to avoid the hassle and expense of probate. While most people aren't interested in creating a living trust until they are at least middle-aged, you can create one at any time.
For more information, stay tuned. We will continue to explore estate planning tips for unmarried couples in our next article. If you don’t have an estate plan in place or haven’t reviewed yours in several years, now might be the best time to start. Our estate planning attornies in Raleigh, NC are here to help Feel free to Contact our office to schedule a consultation.