If you've been following along, last week we started a conversation around why you should create an estate plan if you're unmarried. While being married certainly comes with a number of legal benefits, we find that 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 more 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.
Estate Planning Tips #1 Own Assets Together
Last week, we discussed the importance of writing a will. While that is certainly the best way to designate where your assets and your children will go upon your death, it's not the only way. Another way to ensure that your partner isn't left hanging should you die is to own big-ticket items such as cars, houses, etc together. You can actually avoid probate entirely with joint ownership.
In the state of North Carolina, just make sure that on big purchases, you hold title to the property as "joint tenants" or "tenants by the entirety." Should one owner pass away, full ownership automatically transfers to the surviving owner after filing the right paperwork.
Estate Planning Tips #2 Designate Beneficiaries
Married and unmarried couples alike don't always share all of their assets, for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, retirement accounts can't be shared. Therefore, simply owning assets together isn't the answer for every situation.
In the case of your most valuable assets, including your bank, investment, and retirement accounts, you can actually designate beneficiaries by requesting a beneficiary designation form from the bank or financial institution and name the people you want to inherit those funds. You don't even have to get your estate attorney involved as this service is free to the public. If you change your mind down the road, you simply fill out another form.
#3 Durable Powers of Attorney
Much like you want to protect your assets, it's also important to protect your financial and medical decision-making abilities should you be in a position where you're unable to make those decisions for yourself, but you're still living. As such, you'll need to use durable powers of attorney such that you can designate your partner to step in and make decisions on your behalf.
Durable Powers of Attorney (DPOA) for finances gives your partner the authority to manage your assets should you unexpectedly fall ill or become incapacitated. Should you need to pay the mortgage or access your financial information while your other half is being provided with medical care, you can do so without issue. Without the DPOA for finances in place, you would need to go to court and prove that your partner is incapable of performing these tasks and request control of their assets.
On the other hand, Durable Powers of Attorney for health care gives your partner the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf if you're unable to make those decisions on your own.
Along with the DPOA, you may also want to create a living will with medical directives that predetermine your end-of-life health care wishes. For example, if you require medical intervention to live, you can execute do-not-resuscitate orders. Doctors and other health care providers must follow any wishes set forth in your living will, but putting them in writing gives your partner better legal standing.
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.