Marriage makes life easier in many ways. If one partner in a marriage becomes incapacitated, then the other spouse can make important healthcare and financial decisions for that person. If one spouse passes away, then any community property passes to the remaining spouse. Unmarried couples often do not have many of these rights. As a result, estate planning for unmarried couples is much different from estate planning for married partners.
Note that Texas law does recognize common law marriage. If your relationship meets the standards of a common law marriage, then your estate planning needs to account for that.
A will is one of the first and strongest estate planning documents you can have. It will allow you to leave assets and property to your spouse. It will also help you plan out which of your beneficiaries will receive certain portions of your estate. Due to the importance of this document (especially for unmarried couples,) you should consult an experienced Texas wills attorney for help. If your will is not properly drafted, then your estate could fall into intestacy. This means the Texas probate court will determine who inherits what from your estate. Also, relatives that want to cut your significant other out of their portion of your estate may challenge your last will and testament if it is not strong enough. If these problems concern you, there may be other ways to protect what you plan to leave to your unmarried partner.
There are several ways to pass real estate to an unmarried partner and help him or her avoid probate. One way is to consider naming your partner as a joint tenant. Joint tenancy ownership means that both parties own a piece of the property. When one partner in a joint tenancy dies, his or her portion of the property automatically goes to the remaining tenant.
Unmarried couples do not have rights to each other’s pensions or social security accounts. That means the death of one partner may leave the other in a financial bind. Purchasing a life insurance policy with the other partner named as the beneficiary may help. Then you can rest easy knowing that the surviving partner will be able to meet his or her financial needs.
If you become incapacitated, then you may want your partner to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf. You will need to work with our Austin estate lawyers to draw up medical and financial powers of attorney documents. Under Texas law, the courts must name a surrogate if you fail to name someone in a power of attorney document. This can leave the incapacitated partner without an advocate until his or her partner gains decision-making rights through the court system.
Bank accounts and retirement funds are valuable assets for surviving partners, particularly if one partner is the primary breadwinner. Naming a beneficiary on your bank accounts and retirement funds allows your partner to take ownership of these assets immediately upon your death. You may need to place a transfer-on-death designation on your bank account. An Austin estate planning attorney can help point you in the right direction.
It is important to leave a list of digital assets to your significant other upon death. This should include any login information for principal accounts and instructions detailing what to do with each account. For example, one partner may want to have his or her social media accounts maintained as digital memorials after passing away. The other may want all accounts deleted as soon as possible after he or she passes. Digital estate planning guards the wishes of both individuals.
Estate planning for unmarried couples can be complex, as many of the rights available to married couples are not automatically offered to unmarried partners. Meet with an attorney to find out what documents you need to protect your partner and safeguard your assets. Schedule an appointment now by contacting Sheehan Law, PLLC at (512) 355-0155.
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