Why Long-Term Unmarried Relationships Should Have An Estate Plan

By Joshua Berkley

Estate planning for unmarried long-term partners is essential for legal protection, clarity in asset distribution, and ensuring the security and wishes of both individuals are upheld. Couples like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell recently made headlines when they explained why they never married. Estate planning is crucial for unmarried long-term partners, like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, for several reasons:

  • Legal Recognition: Unlike married couples, unmarried partners do not automatically inherit each other’s assets. Estate planning ensures their wishes are legally recognized.
  • Asset Distribution: A Will or Trust will specify how assets should be divided, offering protection and clarity on each partner’s intentions. In the absence of a Will or estate plan, assets of the deceased individual are distributed according to state intestacy laws, which typically favor blood relatives. This can leave an unmarried partner without any share of the assets, regardless of the length or commitment of their relationship.

Besides a will or an estate plan setting forth your wishes with respect to your unmarried partner, you might want to consider whether it would be beneficial to title property in Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship.  If this is done, when one partner dies, the surviving partner automatically becomes the sole owner of the property. This can simplify the transfer of property upon death, but may have other legal and tax implications. For example, holding property jointly might limit flexibility in estate planning. Each person’s ability to control what happens to their share of the property after death is reduced. There also may be tax implications for transferring property into joint names, as well as estate tax considerations upon the death of one of the owners. If a couple decides to go this route, the stability of the relationship is an important factor. If the relationship ends, dividing jointly owned property can be complicated and potentially contentious.

  • Healthcare Decisions: Estate planning often includes creating a healthcare power of attorney, which allows individuals to designate who can make medical decisions on their behalf if they become incapacitated. Without this, an unmarried partner may not have the legal authority to make healthcare decisions for their partner.
  • Children and their Inheritance:  If the couple has children, estate planning becomes even more vital. It allows for arrangements regarding the guardianship of minor children and ensures that their needs and financial support are addressed.

If either partner has children from previous relationships, estate planning can ensure that their inheritance rights are protected and clarified.

  • Avoiding Probate: It can help avoid a lengthy and public probate process, ensuring privacy and faster distribution of assets.
  • Financial Security: Estate planning ensures that the surviving partner is financially secure after the other’s death. This is important since they may not be entitled to benefits like Social Security. In addition, it is often the case that finances and assets may be deeply intertwined due to the long-term nature of the relationship.
  • Minimizing Taxes and Legal Challenges:  While they may not receive the same tax benefits as married couples, proper estate planning can help minimize tax burdens on the surviving partner and can also reduce the likelihood of legal challenges from upset family members or heirs.
  • Peace of Mind: Finally, having an estate plan in place provides peace of mind for both partners, knowing that their wishes will be honored, and their partner will be taken care of in the event of their death.

Contact a Central Kentucky Estate Planning Attorney

Estate planning for unmarried couples, especially ones that have been in long-term relationships, is essential to ensure that their wishes are respected, their assets are protected, and their loved ones are provided for. Berkley Oliver PLLC has experienced Kentucky estate planning and probate attorneys who can provide you with skilled guidance tailored to your personal situation. Reach out to our dedicated team today.

About the Author
Josh Berkley is an attorney and owner at Berkley Oliver PLLC who helps individuals implement plans to protect their assets and their loved ones. Josh focuses his practice in the areas of Estate Planning, Probate, and Elder Law.  From assisting young parents in making a plan to provide for their children, to helping senior clients qualify for Medicaid, Josh works with clients to create estate plans and life plans tailored to each person’s specific goals. He also helps clients with a wide variety of important legal documents such Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Healthcare Surrogate Designations, and Living Wills. If you have any questions regarding this article, contact Josh here.