People in common-law marriages need an estate plan to protect themselves and their partners. With an organized estate plan, a person can transfer his or her estate to his or her surviving partner in case the person dies. The person can also authorize the other partner to make important decisions on his or her behalf.
Common law marriages can be created when people live together and represent themselves to others as married. No licensing or ceremony is needed to establish common-law marriages. Without an estate plan, a person may not be acknowledged during times like the unexpected death of his or her partner or a health crisis if the person is unable to prove that he or she qualifies as a common-law spouse.
When a person dies, the law does not automatically grant the surviving partner property like the family home, even if the two were living together but were never legally married. Several real estate law disputes may arise.
For instance, if the deceased had adult children, they may claim rights to the person’s estate. If the ownership of assets like the family home were not in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship and no estate plan was put in place, the partner may face a tough legal battle to keep his or her deceased partner’s property.
A will or a living trust will indicate how a person wants his or her property to be distributed. That could potentially save the person’s partner from a lot of difficulties and conflicts.
People who are in common-law marriages and lack an estate plan can find it challenging to get the recognition required to act as spouses. Financial planners, lawyers, and healthcare providers may not recognize a person’s partner as his or her spouse if there is no estate plan to lay out the person’s wishes. As a result, the partner may not participate in crucial decisions about finances or health.
For example, a healthcare provider may only listen to the affected person’s parent and sibling because their relationship is easy to prove. A common-law spouse can file a case to seek approval to make important decisions about his or her partner. Nevertheless, other people may continue making the decisions for him or her before the case concludes.
A person’s partner is at greater risk if the family of the person does not know the partner or approve of the relationship. The family may squeeze the partner out of the process of making financial, legal, and medical decisions.
Several estate planning documents can give a person’s partner the authority to make decisions on the person’s behalf. The documents include:
- Health Care Power of Attorney: This document can give an unmarried partner the legal rights to make medical decisions on behalf of the other partner.
- Durable Power of Attorney: In this document, a person can nominate his or her unmarried partner to act on the person’s behalf if the person becomes incapacitated and unable to make legal and financial decisions on his or her own.
An estate plan helps ensure the one who will make important decisions about a person is the individual that the person trusts the most. A properly organized comprehensive plan will clearly state what should happen to a person’s property in addition to who is to make decisions on behalf of the person. As a result, any issues about marital status will not have any significant impact because the estate planning documents will have addressed the key legal matters.