Rule 1: Prepare for incapacity.
Let’s say that you and your significant other have been living together for years in a committed relationship. If one of you suddenly becomes ill and is no longer able to speak, who has the right to make medical choices? As far as the law is concerned, it may not be your partner. In this situation it will be up to a judge to appoint someone to make these decisions, usually a parent or family member. You can avoid this situation if you create an Advance Medical Directive or Health Care Power of Attorney that gives your partner the right to make medical decisions.
Rule 2: Decide on an inheritance.
Cohabitating couples that have no intention of getting married often want to leave one another an inheritance should they die. Yet under the law, your partner is not automatically entitled to receive property upon your death no matter how long you have lived together. In this situation, you will want to make specific gift provisions in your Last Will and Testament, or use other estate planning devices to ensure your partner receives an inheritance.
Rule 3: Start now.
Estate planning is often one of the most delayed, ignored, and forgotten about areas of the law. For most people the questions involved in estate planning are uncomfortable at the very least, making estate planning something that few people do. However, it is especially important for cohabitating couples to begin their estate planning efforts early as the law gives few rights to non-married partners. If you haven’t created any sort of estate plan, it’s important that you speak to an estate planning lawyer as soon as possible.