Trusts for Unmarried Couples
Speak to Our Attorney about Your Estate Plan Today
Unmarried couples who live together as a family unit are often referred
to as a “non-traditional” couple. The reality is that more
and more people choose to cohabit together as a family and even have children
without formally tying the knot. Such “non-traditional” couples
are becoming more and more popular.
Because the state of California does not have “common law marriage” statutes, unmarried-but-living-together couples face a set of legal challenges when
it comes to incapacity, death, or separation, which make
Estate planning even more relevant and important for them.
Contact the Law Offices of Maria N. Jonsson, PC
(310) 935-0706 or
Why Estate Planning Is Especially Important for Unmarried Couples
There is no “Common Law Marriage” in the State of California.
The law does not extend spousal rights or tax incentives to unmarried
couples, as it does to their legally married counterparts. Unless an unmarried
couple has in place certain legal documents, upon the death of one partner,
the surviving partner (because they don’t qualify as a “surviving
spouse”) has no inheritance rights or rights to represent the decedent’s
Estate in court. It can be even more complicated for the couple if one
partner becomes incapacitated. Add joint property and children into the
mix, and the lack of such Estate planning can turn into a nightmare for
all parties involved — the family of the deceased, as well as the
surviving partner, and/or their child(ren).
For that reason, it is wise for unmarried couples to set up an Estate plan
to protect each other from the unintended consequences of separation,
incapacity, or death. By way of Estate planning, non-traditional couples
can ensure that their property is distributed according to their wishes
and that their end-of-life decisions are in line with their desires and
will be carried out by the other partner. In the event of separation, a
cohabitation agreement can determine the manner of division of property and debts
What Happens If an Unmarried Partner Dies Without a Will?
To protect their partner from California laws that may otherwise disinherit
them, unmarried couples should set up reciprocal Trusts, pour-over wills,
advance health care directives and powers of attorney. These are the basic
Estate planning tools which will ensure that the couple is legally regarded
similarly to their married counterpart.
Every unmarried couple should consider establishing:
Wills and Revocable Trusts: Unmarried couples can set up Trusts and wills to ensure that the other
partner is named as the Beneficiary of their assets and, possibly, the
Trustee of the Trust and/or Executor of the will. This will allow the
partner the ability to manage the assets in the event of incapacity or
death. It will also allow the partner the priority of appointment in court
over a deceased partner’s minor child or their parents.
Powers of Attorney for Property Management: These are essential to appoint a partner as the
agent authorized to conduct personal and financial affairs in the event
of incapacity of a partner. In the absence of such power of attorney,
the incapacitated partner’s family members will have priority of
appointment in court in a conservatorship proceeding they can bring —
to the complete exclusion of the other (non-incapacitated) partner.
Advance Health Care Directives: These will allow a partner to be the named Agent for making medical decisions,
grant access to medical records, and permit the ability to make critical
decisions, including termination of life support in end-of-life circumstances.
Conversely, these decisions will legally fall on the partner’s family
members — again, to the complete exclusion of the other partner.
In the absence of an advance health care directive, end-of-life decisions
cannot be made without a court order. Without such legal appointments
in place, the incapacitated/deceased partner’s family members can
completely freeze out, for all intents and purposes, the non-incapacitated
partner from all decision-making. Moreover, unmarried individuals can
be barred from visiting their partner in the hospital. Having an Advance
Health Care Directive or a Visitation Authorization in place will ensure
this won’t happen to your partner.
Guardian Nominations: Things can be even more complicated when the couple has minor children,
one or more of whom are from a prior marriage/relationship. Such minor
child(ren) can be taken away from the custody of the surviving partner
because the deceased partner’s own family members would have priority
of appointment as the child’s guardians. For that reason, an unmarried
couple should take extra care to appoint each other as guardians of any
minor children they raise together. It is important to remember that such
appointment will not override a biological parent’s right as guardian
of the person of such child.