Estate planning is usually thought of as something “families” do, as in what does mom get when dad dies, and then what do the children get when both are gone? But with the number of non-traditional families in our society today, such as blended families, single parents, unmarried couples who live together and same-gender couples, estate planning requires some non-traditional methods.
Many laws seem to favor the traditional family unit, such as probate laws that allow transfer of property from one spouse to another when one dies. But what if that legal relationship didn’t exist between a couple, or even between a stepchild and stepparent? There are a number of legal documents that should be in place to make these issues easier.
First, make sure that someone you trust is named as your health care surrogate. This gives that person the right to make health care decisions on your behalf when you are unable to. This should also include a HIPAA release, which allows health-care providers to release information to you about the other person.
A power of attorney is also important so that the other person can handle financial and legal transactions for you when you are incapacitated or otherwise unable.
Beneficiary designations should receive careful attention. Whether you have a will or trust or other estate planning strategy, many things such as insurance proceeds and retirement account assets will pass outside your estate. So if you have re-married and leave “everything” to your current spouse in a will, but never changed the named beneficiary on your $100,000 life insurance policy from your former spouse to your current spouse, your former spouse will still be entitled to that money.
These are only a few of the estate planning considerations that should be addressed if you are in a non-traditional family or relationship. An estate planning attorney with the specialized knowledge that these relationships require should be part of your planning process.
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