These days, it’s become the norm for couples who’ve been dating for a period of time to move in together. They generally share their bills and lives without any kind of formal agreement. Seniors are as likely to move in with each other as 20-somethings, and they’re often motivated by practical concerns and economic benefits.
Unlike marriage, however, living together provides you and your partner no legal protections when it comes to making medical, financial or legal decisions on each other’s behalf. Without the default protections of marriage, it’s necessary to take additional legal steps to protect you and your partner.
1. Cohabitation Agreements
California allows Cohabitation Agreements, in which partners agree on financial obligations to each other, both during cohabitation and after it ends. A Cohabitation Agreement might detail how household expenses will be divided. If there are children, there might be specifics about how a couple will divide childcare responsibilities and costs. If you own property with your partner, the agreement also can outline what happens to the property if you break up–who will purchase the other’s interest, for how much, and who will move out and when. Properly drafted, a Cohabitation Agreement will be enforced by the court.
2. Wills and Beneficiary Designations
If you die without a Will, California’s intestacy laws will dictate who will inherit your property. If you’re unmarried with no children, these laws typically leave assets to your parents or siblings. If you want your partner to inherit your property, you’ll need to create a Will that identifies how you want your assets distributed.
Assets such as retirement benefits and life insurance policies pass to heirs according to each account’s beneficiary designation, which overrides the designation of a Will. If you want your partner to inherit these assets, it is extremely important to make sure your beneficiary designation forms for all retirement accounts and life insurance policies are executed properly.
3. Advance Healthcare Directive
Doctors typically look to a patient’s closest living relatives to make healthcare decisions for those who are incapacitated and can no longer make decisions for themselves. If you’re married, your spouse is generally considered your closest living relative. If you’re unmarried with no children, your closest relatives are your parents, if they’re still living; if they’re not, then it’s your siblings to whom medical teams will turn to make important care decisions.
It’s important to know that an unmarried significant other has no legal rights
The solution is to make sure you have a valid Advance Healthcare Directive. This document will let you appoint your significant other/partner to make medical decisions for you if a physician determines you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
4. Financial Power of Attorney
A Financial Power of Attorney gives someone the authority to act on another person’s behalf. For many of our clients, a Financial Power of Attorney comes into effect when parents or other family members become physically or mentally incapable of managing their own affairs, and a family member or trusted aide takes over. Someone with a Power of Attorney will typically be responsible for paying bills, preparing taxes, settling claims, taking care of business interests and hiring household help.
If you and your partner are in a long-term, committed relationship, these legal documents will protect your rights if one of you becomes incapacitated or dies.
At California Document Preparers, we include a Financial Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive in our Living Trust Package. One more thing. If your Living Trust and other legal documents are dated and no longer reflect your current relationship, we can assist in your updating them. Contact us at one of our three Bay Area officesto schedule an appointment today.