Non-married couples who live together in California have some significant estate planning questions they need to address. Like married couples, non-married couples face many of the issues as their married counterparts. However, when it comes to estate planning questions, non-married couples are not given the same benefits. Let’s take a look at how living together as a non-married couple will affect your estate plan.
Inheritances for Non-Married Couples
Once you and your partner are married, each of you automatically earns the legal right to inherit from the other should that person die. For example, if you are married, your spouse could inherit all of your property upon your death if you don’t create an estate plan. If you have an estate plan, your spouse will still be entitled to receive a portion of your property, but you can direct how you want to distribute the rest.
Contrast this with non-married couples. If you and your partner have been living together as a couple for years or decades, you still don’t earn an automatic inheritance right. Should one of you die, the other would not automatically stand to inherit any of that person’s property. Estranged or distant biological relatives could end up with your estate instead of your partner.
However, you can change this by creating an estate plan. To address inheritance questions, you will need to a will, a revocable living trust, or other tools that will allow you to leave an inheritance to your partner. Without such a plan you rely upon the default inheritance laws that leave your partner nothing.
Medical Decision for Non-Married Couples
Another common estate planning issue that non-married couples in California need to think about is the question of who would make your decisions for you should you become incapacitated. Incapacitation occurs when you suffer an injury or illness that leaves you unable to make knowledgeable choices. For example, people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease often lose the ability to make knowing decisions. In such cases, someone will have to make decisions on that person’s behalf.
For married couples, the spouse of the incapacitated person usually has the right to make those types of decisions. The spouse can make medical decisions, financial decisions, as well as day-to-day choices that affect the incapacitated person’s life.
When it comes to non-married couples, the question of who makes these decisions is not as clear. Even if you have been in a committed relationship for decades, your partner might not have the legal authority to make decisions for you. Unless you have created a health care power of attorney that specifically grants your partner decision-making rights, it will fall to your closest family member to make decisions for you when you’re incapacitated.