Although it's important for most people to have a will in place, it's even more so for unmarried couples. Without the legal protection of marriage, the surviving partner may suffer unintended financial and legal problems.
Why Is it Vital?
If a person dies without a valid will in place, the state's probate laws take over the distribution of assets. This generally means that assets subject to probate (those without a definite beneficiary or joint tenancy) are distributed according to a set order. This order usually follows family lines: parents or descendants, siblings and other kin.
Even if you feel that your commitment and relationship is the same as a married couple, your surviving partner generally does not have the same rights in probate as a spouse would. Rather than giving priority to your partner, your assets may be given to your parents, siblings, other relatives or the state.
By contrast, with a will in place you can make many important choices. These include:
- Name a guardian for your children
- Determine who gets your assets and in what order
- Appoint a personal representative to execute your wishes
- Prevent certain persons from receiving assets automatically
- Leave assets to your surviving partner
- Appoint a custodian to care for money left to minors
What to Do Next
It's best to consult an attorney when creating a will. Although wills made without legal assistance are generally valid, they may include language that invites probate battles or fails to accomplish what you really want to have happen.
Once a will is properly drawn up, keep a copy in a secure place and be sure to tell your partner and a few trusted friends or family members where it is and which attorney was involved in its creation.
Review your will periodically to determine if your choices are still valid and if your assets or liabilities have changed. Additionally, if you move to a different state, have the will reviewed by a qualified attorney in your new state, such as Tessneer Law Office.
Other Ways to Protect
Wills are only one piece of the puzzle in protecting your partner and your own choices. Another way is to draw up a durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney. With these documents, you may designate your partner as the one to make financial or medical decisions for you if you're incapacitated.
Taking measures to protect your relationship in the event of your death or serious medical problems is a valuable means to show your feelings in a real, actionable way.