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Estate Planning for Unmarried Senior Couples

Estate Planning for Unmarried Senior Couples
Creating an estate plan for an unmarried couple is already challenging. However, when the cohabitating couple is in their golden years, it’s especially tricky.

Estate planning for unmarried senior couples is the subject of this blog, brought to you by Beck, Lenox & Stolzer Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC. An increasing number of couples at various stages of life are choosing to live together without marrying, making estate planning a bit more challenging. This is true whether the couple is relatively young and has children or if they are seniors, according to a recent article from Kiplinger, “Estate Planning and the Legal Quirks of Retiree Cohabitation.”

From one perspective, living together without being legally married provides an advantage: you have your own estate plan. You may distribute assets after death with no obligation to leave anything to a partner or their biological children. In many jurisdictions, the law requires spouses to leave a significant portion to their surviving spouse. This doesn’t apply if you’re cohabitating.

However, there are downsides. For example, a surviving unmarried partner doesn’t benefit from inheriting assets without estate taxes. A non-spouse transferring assets may find themselves generating sizable estate or income taxes. To avoid this, your estate planning attorney will discuss tax liability strategies.

Owning real property together can get complicated. Consider an unmarried couple buying a property solely in one person’s name, excluding the partner to sidestep any possible gift taxes. If the sole owner dies, the partner has no claim to the property. The solution could be planning for property rights in the estate plan, possibly leaving the property outright to the partner or in trust for the partner’s use throughout their lifetime. It still has to be planned for in advance of incapacity or, of course, death.

Regarding healthcare communication and directives, special care must be taken to ensure that the couple can be involved in each other’s care and decision-making. By law, decision-making might default to the married spouse or kin. Without a designated healthcare proxy, a cohabitating partner has no legal authority to obtain medical information, make medical decisions, or, in some cases, won’t even have the ability to have access to a hospitalized partner. A healthcare power of attorney is essential for unmarried couples.

For senior couples living together, blending families can be challenging. However, blending finances can be even more complex. Living together later in life can create many concerns if there are former spouses or children from a prior relationship. If a senior decides to marry, they are advised to have a prenuptial agreement so children from previous unions are not disinherited. If a potential spouse has big issues signing such a document, it should raise a red flag to their motivation to marry.

While living together without the legal protection of marriage is an individual decision and may be seen as a means of avoiding legalities,  estate planning for unmarried senior couples is important to protect both parties and their families. Couples must prepare for the future, for better or worse, in sickness and health. When planning this type of future together, go see an experienced estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney that also practices elder law, like Beck, Lenox & Stolzer attorneys, can help provide legal protection for the “in sickness and health”. Click here to find out more about the importance of estate planning and to schedule a free consultation.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 6, 2023) “Estate Planning and the Legal Quirks of Retiree Cohabitation”

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