It’s not unusual for couples to decide to live together before they are married. And, its no longer unusual for couples who live together to decide they do not need to be married. According to the Census Bureau, by 2019 the number of unmarried partners who live together in the United States nearly tripled over the past two decades from 6 million to 17 million, or 7% of the total adult population. Two adults who chose to live together without getting married are often treated just as if they are a married couple by their friends and family. Unfortunately, if one of them dies or becomes seriously ill, they are not legally entitled to the same rights as married couples.
If someone in Illinois dies without a will, it’s called dying intestate. If you die without a will in Illinois, your estate and all decisions about your estate will go to your closest relatives – not your unmarried cohabitating partner. Your assets that fall under intestacy laws include property, bank accounts and retirement savings that you own outright in only your name, and are not co-owned with anyone else.
There are steps that unmarried couples – whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex – can take to legally protect their partner in the case they become seriously ill or if they die.
1. Make a Will or Trust
Who do you want to inherit your assets after you die? If you die without a will, your unmarried cohabitating partner will not inherit your assets unless they are co-owners of that asset. A legally executed will or trust lets you decide who will inherit your assets after your death, and make life easier for your partner after you die.
2. Who Will Make Health Care Decisions?
Cohabitating couples should create a health care proxy and a living will. If you become incapacitated, who do you trust to make your health care decisions? If you and your partner are not legally married, they may not be allowed to make medical decisions on your behalf. If you don’t appoint a health care proxy, the courts will assign someone to make your medical decisions – and it may not be a person your trust. A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a durable power of attorney, a legal device that allows one person to indefinitely make decisions on behalf of another.
3. Retirement Accounts
Who is identified as your beneficiary on your retirement and financial accounts? Your beneficiaries are the people you have named to receive your assets, such as retirement accounts, bank accounts, life insurance policies, wills, trusts and other accounts.
If you are an unmarried couple living with your partner with no plans to marry, working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you plan for the future and protect the rights and future of your partner in the event something unexpected happens to you.
Estate planning is important to ensure that unmarried couples protect their partner in the event they are incapacitated or die. If you have questions about estate planning for cohabitating, contacting a knowledgeable attorney may be a good next step. An estate planning lawyer can help you understand your rights and the best options to protect your family. Contact Estate & Probate Legal Group in Illinois today at 630.800.0112.