Law Office of Gail L. Hills

Essential Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

by Gail L. Hills, Esq.

Essential Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

When I talk about estate planning with my clients, they typically think I’m talking about a will or a trust.  While they are important pieces to estate planning, the power of attorney and the health care power of attorney/living will are essential for unmarried couples.  These documents allow you to appoint a person to make health care and financial decisions for you.  If you are married, your spouse automatically has the right to make those decisions for you by virtue of your marital status.  However, if you are not married, your life partner is not automatically given that right.

In order to appoint someone to make financial decisions for you, you need a power of attorney.  The authority you give your agent can be as broad or as narrow as you feel necessary or prudent.  This document is particularly important if you are unmarried because your life partner cannot legally make financial transactions on your behalf without it.  Whether one partner owns the  property or they own it together, one partner cannot legally control the other partner’s share without specific authorization.  This is generally not true for married couples because the law allows them to own the property in a way that allows each spouse to control the other’s portion.  With a power of attorney you can allow your partner to control any and all of your property, including your bank accounts and your home.

The health care power of attorney/living will offers two types of protection in one document.  The health care power of attorney portion gives your agent the authority to get access to your medical information as well as to make health care decisions for you when you can’t make them for yourself.  This typically means that if you are unconscious or have a condition that makes it impossible for you to communicate your wishes, your health care agent is authorized to make health care decisions for you.

The living will portion of this document instructs your health care agent and medical staff what your wishes are if you are in an end-stage condition or are permanently unconscious.  It gives you the ability to make your wishes known before such a situation arises.  The living will relieves your loved ones from the heavy burden of making that ultimate decision.  It also gives you the opportunity to decide who will make sure your wishes are carried out.

The power of attorney and health care power of attorney/living will are important documents to have weather you are married or not.  Since unmarried couples do not have the same protections as do married couples, it is necessary to have these documents in place to make sure the person who knows you best makes those decisions for you.  Call today to schedule you free initial consultation.