Estate Planning For The Nontraditional Family

It is no longer the case that the meaning of “family” is limited to certain traditional forms. These days, families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. How does estate planning impact those families?

When talking about nontraditional families, we are talking about a variety of family groups that include unmarried adults, same-sex partners, and single parents with children. In effect, anyone who resides in the same household but do not belong to a traditional family form could be included under the definition of a nontraditional family.

To a certain extent, all nontraditional families have similar problems with income, tax, and property transfer issues. Partners often face tax penalties when they transfer property between themselves. There may be higher taxes paid as individuals than as a couple.

The default laws of California and the federal governments, including the IRS, presume a traditional marriage. Even though a relationship may be as dedicated and committed as a marriage, it is not legally recognized. As a result, many members of nontraditional families often fall out of any default rights or benefits that are given automatically to traditional family members. Many laws are designed to treat married couples as a single unit where both are equal contributors and have equal rights to the property of the other.

It is important to note that California does not recognize common law marriage. It doesn’t matter how long you have lived together, how dedicated your and your partner have been to each other, or how you hold yourself out to the public. If you are not married, you often have no greater rights than a roommate.

While estate planning cannot totally replace marriage, it can mitigate some of the harm. With estate planning you can not only can designate your partner as your lawful heir, you can empower them as your agent in financial and medical matters.

Estate planning may be critical if the parents or siblings of you or your partner are hostile to your chosen family form. Without these legal rights, you or your partner could be shut out by an uncaring legal system that gives estranged parents and family greater rights in terms of medical care and inheritance.

A skilled estate planning attorney creates a customized plan just for you and your family, both traditional and non-traditional. There really is no substitute.

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