Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

There are many unique issues for unmarried couples to consider in the estate planning process. Because there is no “legal” relationship between the parties, it is critically important that these issues be addressed before problems arise. If left too late, you run the risk that your significant other may have no rights and could end up being entirely removed from your life, both personally and financially. So what documents should you put in place?

A General Durable Power of Attorney: This Power of Attorney is crucial because through it you designate who handles your finances in the event of your incapacity. It is not uncommon for unmarried couples to combine their finances. Absent this document, the Court will appoint a Guardian, and that Guardian may very well be someone other than your partner. Not only could your wishes be disregarded, but your significant other could lose his or her financial stability.

A Health Care Power of Attorney: This document allows you to designate who will make health care decisions for you in the event of your incapacity. Again, if you become incapacitated and this document is not in place, a Court appointed Guardian becomes necessary. Unless all of your next-of-kin agree, the Court most likely will not appoint your significant other. He or she will then have no legal right to participate in your health care, and could be completely barred from any contact with you.

An Authorization for Final Disposition: This document allows you to appoint a representative with the decision making authority regarding your funeral arrangements. Without the Authorization, Wisconsin law gives this right only to your next-of-kin. Unless you provide otherwise, your significant other could be completely excluded from your funeral.

A Will/ Living Trust: If you pass away without a proper estate plan in place, Wisconsin law dictates that your assets be distributed to your next-of-kin. If you and your partner want to provide for each other financially, it is crucial that you jointly construct your estate plan. You should consider whether you want to hold assets in both of your names. You should each execute either a Will or a Living Trust, and also make specific provisions for each other on the beneficiary designations of your life insurance, 401(k), IRA’s, annuities, etc.

Unmarried couples often have the same estate planning objectives as married couples, but they clearly face challenges that married couples do not. However, most of these challenges can be overcome with proper planning.

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