Estate planning pointers for unmarried couples

Are you in a long-term relationship, or even engaged to be married? Is that wedding postponed indefinitely due to the current pandemic? Do you have children who would need a guardian if you pass away? Do you have children from a previous relationship? Do you want to make sure that your partner is the one who will inherit your estate, or will be the one who’s allowed to handle your financial affairs and your medical decisions if you become critically ill?

The “laws of intestacy” specify that the estate of an unmarried person who has no Will would pass in equal shares to the children equally and if a child was deceased, then his/her share would pass to his/her descendants if any. If the deceased has no children, the estate passes to his/her surviving parent or parents, and if none, then to the descendants of the parents (i.e., the deceased’s siblings or nieces and nephews). If a single individual dies and has no surviving parents, children, siblings or nieces/nephews, the estate will pass to further remote relatives such as cousins. Ultimately, the estate can escheat to the State of New Jersey when there are no kin who can be located.

The only way to be sure that your estate will pass to your partner is to structure things properly in writing. There will be NJ inheritance tax due if it passes to your partner who isn’t your spouse, so that needs to be factored into the planning. The passage of the estate can be managed through a Last Will and Testament or a Living Trust, (or both) as well as certain beneficiary designations, depending on your specific situation.  Each case needs individual attention.

With a Will or Trust  you can make specific arrangements to protect the well-being of your own children, whether that’s by designating a Guardian (for minors) or structuring the way their inheritance would be managed.

As for decisions to be made during your lifetime if you become incapacitated, there is a preference in the statutes for next of kin as decision-makers. If you want your partner to be the primary Agent on your behalf, you would need to sign legal documents to that effect — power of attorney, health care power of attorney. You can also sign an Appointment of Funeral Agent. All of this documentation goes a long way to prevent disputes over who has authority, who inherits, and who should make decisions for you.

You may be wondering if you can just wait until after the wedding. Of course you can. Should you? That’s a different issue. Careful planning can prevent a crisis.

Call us to prepare or update your estate plan …….. 732-382-6070

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