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 that makes
Estate planning even more relevant and important for them when it comes to:
- Or separation
Seeking advice regarding Trusts for unmarried couples? Contact the Law
Offices of Maria N. Jonsson, PC
(310) 935-0706 or
Why Is Estate Planning 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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
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.