This is an article from the law office of Amen, Gantner & Capriano (http://www.yourestatematters.com/) in St. Louis, Missouri, that we thought others may find helpful.
Not all that long ago in the United States, society frowned on couples who lived together outside of the bonds of matrimony. In the 21st century though, more and more couples are choosing to put off marriage until later in life or forego the formality of marriage altogether. If you have decided to postpone marriage, but are living with a partner, you need to know why estate planning is so important to you.
The institution of marriage has both an emotional and a legal component. Historically, marriage preceded living together – and all of the perks that go along with co-habitating. Marriage was also the jumping off point for the start of a family unit. Today, however, changes in societal viewpoints have made it acceptable to live together and even start a family without getting married first. Unfortunately, the law is often not as quick to change when society changes. As a result, many of the legal benefits that go along with being legally married are simply not available to couples who have chosen to co-habitate in lieu of marriage. A well thought out estate plan, however, can compensate for many of the shortcomings of the law in this area.
There are several areas of concern for couples who choose to live together outside of marriage, including inheritance rights and decision-making authority. If you are living together and your partner dies, you have absolutely no right to take anything from your partner’s estate. This extends not only to assets of value but also to sentimental or personal assets. For instance, not only will you not be entitled to assets held in a bank account or investment fund, but the photo album he/she has full of memories or the jewelry you gave him/her is also off limits from a legal standpoint. Likewise, should your partner become incapacitated, you will not legally be authorized to make healthcare decisions nor personal decisions for him/her. In fact, you could be shut out completely from the decision making processes.
The good news is that a properly drafted estate plan can resolve all of these issues and concerns. A Last Will and Testament can resolve the inheritance issues by clearly stating that you are to receive designated assets from your partner’s estate and vice versa. Executing an Advanced Directive can also ensure that you are the designated agent for healthcare decisions that need to be made for your partner, should he/she become incapacitated. A revocable living trust can also give each of you the legal authority needed to manage, use, or even sell important assets should the other become incapacitated.