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Essential Estate Planning Strategies for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning for unmarried couples requires careful consideration to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, as the default laws often prioritize relatives over partners. Without the legal protections afforded to married couples, unmarried partners may face significant challenges in inheriting assets, making healthcare decisions, and managing each other’s affairs in the event of incapacitation or death. Therefore, it’s essential to take proactive steps to protect each other and ensure your intentions are honored. Here are some key steps to consider:

1. Wills

Create a Will: Ensure both partners have a will in place to specify the distribution of assets and guardianship arrangements (if applicable).

Name an Executor: Appoint someone trustworthy to execute the will.

2. Trusts

Set Up a Trust: Consider establishing a trust to manage and distribute assets, potentially avoiding probate and providing more control over asset distribution.

Living Trust: A revocable living trust can allow for easier management of assets during life and clear instructions for distribution upon death.

3. Beneficiary Designations

Update Beneficiaries: Ensure all beneficiary designations on accounts such as life insurance, retirement plans, and payable-on-death accounts are updated to reflect your partner if desired.

4. Joint Ownership

Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship: Holding property as joint tenants with right of survivorship ensures that the property passes directly to the surviving partner without going through probate.

Tenancy in Common: Each partner owns a share of the property, which can be passed on to heirs through a will.

5. Powers of Attorney

Durable Power of Attorney: Designate your partner to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Healthcare Power of Attorney: Appoint your partner to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so.

6. Health Care Directives

Living Will: Specify your wishes for medical treatment in case of incapacitation.

HIPAA Authorization: Grant your partner access to your medical information.

7. Estate Tax Planning

Understand Estate Taxes: Unmarried couples do not benefit from the marital deduction for estate taxes. Plan accordingly to minimize tax liabilities.

Gift Tax Exclusion: Utilize annual gift tax exclusions to transfer assets to your partner during your lifetime.

8. Domestic Partnership Agreements

Create a Legal Agreement: Document the financial and property arrangements between partners to avoid disputes and clarify intentions.

9. Retirement Accounts

IRA and 401(k) Plans: Designate your partner as the beneficiary for these accounts, if desired.

10. Regular Review

Review and Update: Periodically review and update your estate planning documents to reflect any changes in your relationship, assets, or intentions.

TrustCounsel can help ensure your plans are legally sound and tailored to your specific situation. To get started, please visit our contact page to select the office location most convenient for you, or complete our contact form and we will promptly reach out to schedule your appointment. Our experienced attorneys will work with you to understand your unique needs and provide personalized solutions to protect your assets and your partner’s future. Don’t leave your estate to chance—reach out to TrustCounsel today and secure peace of mind for both you and your loved one.

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