These days, couples can be emotionally and financially dependent upon each other well before marriage. The longer the relationship lasts, the more likely they are to be financially intertwined. This means estate planning may be necessary to completely reflect the relationship.
Financially intertwined couples that are not married need to take extra steps to make sure their loved one is able to act in the event of an emergency or worse. California does not recognize common law marriage. So no matter how long you’ve lived together or whether you hold yourself out as married, you have no rights greater than a roommate.
Occasionally, a story comes along about a couple that was together for years. Everyone believed they were a happily married couple. But as soon as one of them gets severely ill or dies, it becomes clear that they were never married. At that point, their legal rights and obligations become confusing, at best. At worst, they get shut out entirely.
These are the legal documents that every couple should have available.
Financial Powers of Attorney: This document allows a partner to make financial decisions for their incapacitated partner. They come in a variety of forms with a variety of powers that provide your partner legal access to act on your behalf. This could allow for access to bank accounts to pay bills or the power to liquidate accounts necessary to raise funds to pay for medical care.
Advanced Healthcare Directive: An Advanced Healthcare Directive includes a Medical Power of Attorney, which allows the designated agent to make medical decisions. This would permit the medical professionals to take instructions from the agent, even over other family members. The AHCD can also provide for a guardianship in the event the incapacity is permanent.
HIPAA Authorization: Under the federal HIPAA law, medical professionals are severely restricted on providing medical information to others, sometimes including married partners. A HIPAA Authorization allows the medical professional to provide your medical information to designated people, such as a partner. This could allow them to get necessary information directly from the doctor and discuss your case.
Will: One of the oldest and most essential legal documents, a will allows you to designate your partner as your heir. Without a will, immediate family becomes the heirs, even if you do not have a strong relationship with them. Under the worse situation, a partner could be forced out of a shared home that’s own by the other partner.
Revocable Trust: A Revocable Trust can allow a partnership to easily manage assets together. Each partner will be co-trustees and equally control any assets placed in the trust, such as a home. When one partner dies, the other partner can continue to control and benefit from the property for the remainder of their life. Upon death of the second partner, the property would then be distributed according to the trust, which could be in favor of one partner’s natural children.
An estate planning attorney can prepare these documents and any others that might be necessary to protect your legal rights. If you consider yourself in a committed relationship, you should consult with an estate planning attorney about taking the appropriate steps to protect yourself and your loved one.