Families are made in all sorts of ways, and it is important that your estate plan reflects the needs of the people you love the most. While married couples have the additional protection of New York State laws to ensure they inherit a loved one’s property, couples who stay together for years without getting married are at risk of accidentally disinheriting their life partners. If you and your partner have opted not to get married for personal, professional, or legal reasons, it is vital that you both create an estate plan that will provide for the other if the unthinkable should happen.
Steps Unmarried Couples Should Take to Protect Their Partners
Even if you do not get married, you can still take legal steps to give your partner the right to benefit from your estate. However, these steps must be taken during your lifetime. If you wait too long, your partner will not only lose you, but also your shared income and even the home you have lived in together for decades.
It only takes a few simple steps to prevent this from happening:
- Protect the family home. If only one of you is listed on the deed to the home, the unnamed partner may be passed over during probate and the house will be inherited by the nearest blood relative. When you establish joint tenancy, the home transfers immediately to your partner upon your death—with the added bonus that the property will avoid probate.
- Update your beneficiary designations. New York laws allow residents to add a "payable-on-death" (POD) designation on bank accounts, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts, and insurance policies. If you name your partner as the beneficiary, all they will have to do to gain access to the funds is take a copy of your death certificate to the bank.
- Create powers of attorney. Your partner will not have access to your funds or the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf without power of attorney. You will need two separate documents: a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney (also called a healthcare proxy). Once your partner is named as your power of attorney, they have the right to pay your bills, receive information on your health and treatment, and make end-of-life decisions for you if you become incapacitated.
- Ensure the guardianship of minor children. If you and your partner have children, custody of your children could go to an ex-spouse or a blood relative if one of you passes away. There are many ways to ensure your minor children remain in your care, including adoption.
- Acknowledge other heirs. There are many options to provide for your partner while still leaving assets to the other loved ones in your life. For example, if one of you has children, you may be able to create a life estate for the surviving partner. This ensures that your partner has the right to live in the home until they pass away, at which point the house would pass down to the children. Your will also allows you to designate which assets will go to your parter and which have been set aside for your other relatives.
- Create a tax plan. While federal tax laws allow married couples to inherit an unlimited amount of assets without paying estate taxes, this exemption does not apply to unmarried couples. Without careful tax planning, your partner could lose a sizable portion of your estate to state and federal taxes.
Our estate planning attorneys have seen the tragedies that can happen when documents do not take each person’s unique needs and circumstances into account. At Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group, P.C., we take a practical approach to difficult problems, allowing you and your family to make decisions with confidence. If you have questions about your future, fill out our quick contact form or call us to learn how we can help you with a custom-made estate plan.