In today’s America, the number of partners who choose to live together without going through the process of establishing a legal union is on the rise. There are a number of reasons that more people are choosing to stay unmarried these days. For example, the recent economic downturn has made many couples more hesitant to take big steps in their lives, as they prefer to wait until the turbulence has subsided. Also, homosexual couples do not have the right to get married in many states, including Florida. Finally, one or both partners may be receiving financial assistance that they cannot afford to lose by getting married, such as social security or alimony payments. Whatever the reason, these unmarried couples should still take steps to establish their estate plan and legally define their relationship.
In fact, some estate planning tools are arguably even more important for unmarried partners. For example, the execution of a durable power of attorney, which allows one partner to legally stand in the shoes of the other in order to do things such as sign contracts, collect rent, write checks, pay bills, open and close bank or credit card accounts, purchase insurance, or buy or sell property, can be even more important for unmarried partners than it is for married couples. This is because, practically, spouses can often exercise a degree of control over these aspects without the need to show actual authority, whereas unmarried partners are more likely to be turned away. Likewise, the designation of healthcare surrogate is important because it allows one partner to make medical decisions for the other partner should they become incapacitated, unconscious, or otherwise unable to make medical decisions for themselves. Without this document, spouses are often still allowed some form of standing at hospitals, a privilege that may be withheld from unmarried partners.
There are also estate planning documents that are uniquely designed for unmarried partners. A domestic partner agreement is a written contract between the partners that is used to address the sharing of income, expenses, and property. It supports each partners’ ownership rights and clarifies their intentions regarding the distribution of property if one partner dies or their relationship ends. Domestic partner agreements can be used by all unmarried couples, whether of the opposite or same sex. These agreements, in conjunction with other estate planning documents, can help to provide a broad spectrum of legal rights and benefits that unmarried couples may otherwise go without.
Estate planning is an important part of life that should not be foregone simply because a person is unmarried. If you have questions about establishing a domestic partner estate plan, contact an Attorney in Jacksonville who can assist you today.