• Shawna Murray, Attorney

Do You Have a Life Partner? Why an Estate Plan is Important When You are Part of an Unmarried Couple

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

If you and your life partner are unmarried and have no immediate plans for getting married or you are certain that you will never marry, you two still need to have estate plans. In some ways, it could be said that it is more important for life partners to have at least their basic estate planning documents in place when compared to a married couple.

Health Issues

Can you imagine what would happen if your life partner was in a car accident and upon rushing to the hospital to be by their side, you are treated like a stranger by hospital staff? While you might be able to visit during visiting hours, you are not going to be given any of your partner’s healthcare information due to privacy laws. If your partner and your immediate family do not get along very well, your partner could even be refused access to you if the family insists. These situations can be prevented by having the proper planning in place. If your life partner gave you access to their health information through a durable power of attorney for healthcare and a HIPAA waiver, then you can speak with the medical staff and learn what is going on.

If you and your life partner have prepared a power of attorney for healthcare (also known as a healthcare directive) and a HIPAA waiver, your life partner can be named as your healthcare agent. Upon presenting this document to the medical staff, your partner can be given the healthcare information needed to understand what your medical problem is and what needs to happen next. Your life partner’s stress can be relieved a little because they are not in the dark.

The power of attorney for healthcare also gives your life partner the ability to make healthcare decisions for you when you cannot make them for yourself. You will also provide details on end-of-life choices in a healthcare directive, so if they have to be made and if your partner is the person named in the document, they get to make sure your wishes are taken care of.

Financial Problems

If you were to become incapacitated or injured, your money will become inaccessible. When your partner needs to pay bills and the mortgage or pay doctor’s bills, your partner may be without the ability to do that. Without a Financial Power of Attorney in effect, few people will be able to pay your bills on top of their own. Your partner may not even be able to afford your share of your joint bills that you two split without the ability to access your funds. If you are incapacitated for a long length of time, it could be financially impossible for your partner to support themselves or keep the home that you both live in.

Without the financial power of attorney, the only way for your partner or other family members to access the money needed to take care of your medical bills and your living expenses would be via a court process called a conservatorship. It is a long, drawn-out process that will require multiple hearings and probably a trial, which will be very expensive. Plus, your family members can also petition to be in charge of everything, and being related they may have an advantage over your non-relative life partners.

Having a power of attorney prevents your partner from having to file for a conservatorship while allowing your partner to access the money needed. Plus, they will be able to talk to banks, lenders, and other creditors on your behalf. The power of attorney for finances will keep your financial affairs in order so that you do not have to deal with a mess while you are recovering from your incapacity. It will also help your loved one from suffering financially while you are ill.

Wills & Trusts

In California, if you do not have a trust and/or a will, none of your assets are going to go to your life partner - even if you have been living together for decades. If you were to pass away without a trust and/or a will, your “heirs at law” will inherit all of your assets. If you have children, they will inherit it all and your life partner will be left out in the cold. If there are no children, your estate would go to your parents and if your parents are already gone, then it will go to your siblings.

Since there are no provisions in California law for a life partner (or what some states call a “common-law spouse”) to inherit anything unless there is a trust or a will that lists your partner as a beneficiary, your partner is not only losing you, they could also lose their home and perhaps their financial well-being. If you want to prevent this from happening to your life partner, there is a solution and it is to prepare an estate plan.

Your estate plan can be drafted to your specifications to give you the peace of mind that your life partner will be permitted to help you with finances and healthcare when you cannot take care of them yourself. Plus, a trust and/or will allows you to protect your loved one when you are gone.

If you want to have these documents done correctly and customized for your needs, then you'll need an attorney-drafted estate plan, so please contact Shawna Murray Law at 949-416-3575.

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