According to the 2010 Census, over 7.5 million unmarried couples or 15 million people, live together, a sharp increase from the 3.2 million unmarried couples living together in 1990. This increase in cohabitation has been attributed to a number of different factors, including increased living costs, decisions to marry later or not at all, and until recently, due to legal barriers for same sex couples.
There are many legal benefits to marriage, including rights to social security, immigration rights if one party is not a citizen, surviving spouse benefits, estate benefits, as well as joint bankruptcy filings and the right to refuse to testify against a spouse in a legal proceeding. However, these reasons alone are not justification to get married, which many couples are finding is not for them.
In order to ensure that your partner gets inheritance in the event of your passing, it is critical that the couple executes estate planning documents such as a will or trust. Naming your partner in your will ensures that they will be the beneficiary of the assets and property executed in the document. Additionally, name your partner as your beneficiary on all pensions, retirement accounts, and insurance policies and check those policies to determine if naming a non-family member is allowed or subject to specific rules.
When it comes to property ownership, if you own property with your partner equally, make sure both names are on the title and that it is titled as a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, or if only one owns the property, the other is named in the will as inheriting it. A joint tenancy with rights of survivorship means that the couple jointly owns the property, until one passes and then the other has full rights to the property.
When it comes to healthcare, it is imperative that the proper documents are executed for the partners in order to allow another person to act as an agent for the other partner. For married couples, the spouse is presumed to be the first agent to make health care decisions if one is not named; with unmarried couples, the first person to be named as an agent would be a family member, whether parent, sibling or adult child, depending on age. Executing a health care proxy or durable power of attorney for health care is a quick and simple process that will allow the partner to act on the other’s behalf and avoid any legal battles with the family.