Estate planning is a process that must be customized to fit each individual’s unique situation. Each individual has their own priorities and issues to address. The priorities and issues for an unmarried individual are often different than those for married couples. Some of the common priorities and issues that arise in estate planning for unmarried individuals include the following:
- Planning for Partners – The law provides married couples with certain rights and obligations that unmarried partners may not have. For example, states have laws for married couples regarding property division in the event of divorce or the death of a spouse. Those laws are not the same for unmarried partners in the event of a break up or the death of a partner. With proper planning, unmarried partners may put documents in place to carry out their intent for property division and other issues in the event of a break up or death of a partner. If living together with a partner, one common document is a cohabitation (or living together) agreement to address how assets will be managed and household expenses paid during the relationship and in the event of a break up or death of a partner.
- Planning for Children – Unmarried individuals often have children from a prior relationship or with a current partner to whom they are not married. This makes it very important to ensure that the parent has the proper documents in place to address guardianship and child custody arrangements in the event of the parent’s death or inability to care for their children. It is also important to address how the parent’s assets will be distributed to their children upon their death and who will be responsible for managing those assets. This can be especially important when there is concern about protecting access to those assets from a former spouse or partner that may be serving as the children’s guardian.
- Asset Protection – An estate planning attorney can assist individuals with planning for asset protection during their lifetime. Asset protection planning can be especially important for individuals that work in professions where there is a greater risk for creditor issues and for those who anticipate a need for nursing home care in the future.
- Guardianship Avoidance – Individuals should have documents in place to address planning for their incapacity during their lifetime. Having a power of attorney for health care, durable power of attorney for finances, and revocable trust in place can avoid the need for others to go to court in order to make their health care decisions or manage their finances. If there is no spouse to assist with these incapacity issues, it makes addressing them in advance even more important.
- Fiduciaries – Most married couples name their spouse as their first choice in certain fiduciary provisions, such as their agents under their powers of attorney and their personal representatives or trustees to handle their affairs after their death. It is even more important for unmarried individuals to ensure they have people in place they trust to handle their affairs. That may be a partner, child, or other relative, but in many cases, it may be appropriate for them to consider independent fiduciaries, such as a bank or trust company, to ensure proper management of their affairs.
- Long-Term Care Issues – Planning for long-term care issues is often a greater concern for unmarried individuals because unlike married couples, they may not have a spouse who is able to care for them and provide for their needs, especially in old age. This increases the likelihood of needing long-term care. Obtaining long-term care insurance or planning for government assistance for care is often a greater concern with unmarried individuals.
Estate planning is just as important for unmarried individuals as it is for married couples and each individual should have an estate plan customized to fit their needs.