Critter Corner: Is Estate Planning Needed for Cohabitating Couples?

Dear Commander Bun Bun,

I live with my boyfriend, Rich, in a house we own together. For a number of reasons, we have decided not to get married, but will continue to cohabitate for the foreseeable future. Why would people in our situation need to do estate planning?


Liv Togeth-Herr

Dear Liv,

Even though cohabitation may be legal, unmarried cohabitants face unique estate planning challenges regarding incapacity, inheritance, and estate taxation. Therefore, estate planning is especially important for people in your situation. Below are some of the challenges cohabitating couples face without proper estate planning and incapacity planning in place:

• Unlike their married counterparts, unmarried cohabitants will not be able to make fundamental health and financial decisions for one another in the event of incapacity.

• Absent proper legal planning, state laws that determine the distribution of assets of a person who dies without an estate plan will leave nothing to the surviving cohabitant.

• The unlimited marital deduction is an unlimited deduction for estate (and gift) tax purposes, but only for transfers between spouses.

• It is vital that couples who elect to cohabitate obtain expert legal counsel to minimize or eliminate these adverse results.

Without proper estate and incapacity planning – and depending on how assets are titled – an unmarried partner could receive nothing and even potentially be forced out of the home the couple may have shared for years.  This can be a very unpleasant surprise for people who have planned their life together, but chose not to get married.

It is highly recommended that couples in your situation meet with a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as Evan H. Farr, to explore their estate planning options to avoid unwanted consequences when one partner passes away.  It’s crucial that people don’t assume that their partner will be “taken care of” by other family members or heirs.

Hop this is helpful,

Commander Bun Bun

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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