Legal considerations of living together after 50 for unmarried couples

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples living together after 50 increased by 75% between 2007 and 2016.  The most likely reason is that many of these individuals were involved in a least one difficult divorce and are not keen on remarriage and the potential it brings for another round of legal problems if things don’t work out.

However, there are legal considerations that must be taken into consideration by unmarried couples due to the fact that estate planning laws are typically written in favor of married couples. When it comes to issues such as hospital visitation, inheritance, immigration, owning property, taxes, survivor’s benefits, and Social Security, your marital status is important. Married couples receive legal rights and protections that aren’t automatically afforded to unmarried couples.

Because you don’t have the same rights as a married person, you need to spend some time thinking about what you want to happen should your relationship end. If you aren’t legally married or in a domestic partnership, you don’t have legal protection over the assets that you’re sharing. You can have verbal agreements about any number of things in your relationship, but they won’t hold up in a court of law.

Protection for both of you

Unmarried couples living together, especially those in their retirement years, need to take steps to protect themselves and their wealth from a variety of worse case scenarios. What will happen if one partner is no longer able to manage control of his or her health due to a serious medical problem?  The law will consider the couple to be “legal strangers” which means the partner who is not incapacitated will have no legal rights to make medical decisions on behalf of his or her partner.

Unmarried couples can face some tough legal situations when one of them dies. If they don’t have the proper legal documents in place, the survivor won’t be permitted to make decisions regarding the deceased’s funeral or cremation or about donation of the deceased’s organs. 

While some of these issues are changing as states and communities create laws the govern domestic partnerships, it’s important for couples especially those of senior age, to take care of themselves by executing important estate planning documents while they’re still healthy and competent.  Estate planning documents would include a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a living will. 

Living together without a living trust

Another problem for unmarried couples that could have major ramifications is if one of the partners dies without a written will or a living trust. In cases such as this, the state will step in and distribute the assets of the deceased according to the intestate laws of that particular state. These laws don’t recognize a surviving unmarried partner, and the assets in question will go to the blood relatives of the deceased. 

Unmarried couples that are living together need to take the necessary steps to protect their finances as well as their legal rights. Many legal experts recommend that unmarried couples enter into contracts that provide rights to both of them, similar to the ones that are enjoyed by married couples. 

David W. Foley, California Living trust attorney, offers quality estate planning services including living trusts, wills, power of attorney, and more.

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