Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage? Maybe not.
There have been many reports over the last year discussing the increase in the number of couples that are living together, having children and are not married. I would venture to guess that more than half of those couples do not have an estate plan. I say this because statistics show that at least 50% of all Americans have no estate plan.
[pullquote_right] About 1 in 4 babies are now born to unmarried couples, a rate that has nearly doubled since 2002, according to a recent report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Why does this matter?
Well, if you are living with someone who does not have a living will or health care surrogate designation, and they become ill, you as their partner may not be able to make any health care decisions for them. If it is a slow illness that allows them to sign something at the last minute, you might be okay. But what if they are in a bad accident, unconscious and did not have time to sign something? And what if you have a horrible relationship with their blood relatives? It may be those relatives who have the right to make decisions, not you, the “partner”.
[pullquote_left] Statistics show that at least 50% of all Americans have no estate plan.
What if that person becomes incapacitated and it’s their name on the household bills, on the bank account, on the house? And you don’t have a durable power of attorney to act on their behalf? Guess what? You will be out of luck, and possibly out of a home. At the very least, you may be forced to file for guardianship over this person in order to access financial accounts and pay bills. And if you do not have a good relationship with their family, again, you may be out of luck.
Are you unmarried with children?
As I always say when I speak to groups – every adult (18 and over), no matter how old they are, should have the basics in place – a Will, Durable Power of Attorney and Living Will with health care surrogate designation.
The Will ensures who gets your property when you die and who is able to administer your estate.
The Durable Power of Attorney ensures that, if you become incapacitated, you have appointed someone who can step into your shoes and take over for you (to pay bills, sell property, contract for you).
And the living will and health care surrogate designation will allow you to state your wishes as to how you want to be kept alive and what treatments you want if you are terminal, end stage or in a persistent vegetative state, and it will allow you to appoint someone to make those decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself.
Whether you choose to stay unmarried, it is still important you protect your family and loved ones. Laurie Ohall is a board certified elder law attorney practicing in Brandon, Florida. Contact Ms. Ohall today if you are in need of estate planning, elder law, probate or guardianship assistance.