estate planning law firm

Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Planning for your Life, your Livelihood, your Legacy

Book an Initial Call
January 17, 2024 •  NW Estate Law, LLC
Creating an estate plan for an unmarried couple is already challenging. However, when the cohabitating couple is in their golden years, it’s especially tricky.

Estate planning for unmarried couples.One situation where estate planning is imperative is unmarried, long-term committed relationships.   More and more we are seeing people who have been in a relationship, living together or in separate homes but remaining unmarried.  There are a number of personal reasons why a couple would choose to do this and usually, like most people, end of life and incapacity is not top of mind.  A recent article, “Estate Planning and the Legal Quirks of Retiree Cohabitation.” explores this phenomenon.

Oregon is not a state where co-habitation gives rise to marital rights as it does in some other states, often known as common-law marriages.  Generally, being married provides a level of protection and obligations toward each other where being in a committed, non-martial relationship doesn't.

Some of the advantages (or disadvantages depending on your perspective) of being married includes:

  1. The elective share - an amount a spouse is entitled to at the death of the first based on the length of marriage.
  2. The intestate share - an amount a spouse will receive if there are no estate planning documents in place.
  3. Social security benefits - may be available if one spouse earned more than the other.
  4. Estate Tax benefits - a surviving unmarried partner doesn’t benefit from inheriting assets without estate taxes.

Other areas of law have benefits to being married but sometimes these may also seem like penalties depending on a families circumstance.  For example, long-term care planning.  There are safety nets in place for a married couple such as the Community Spouse Resource Allowance and diverting income to a community spouse so they meet the Minimum Monthly Needs Allowance.  But theses are often most advantageous if the spouse that does not need care is the lower income, lower resource person.  If the spouse that does not need care is the higher earner, they will need to spend their resources down to meet Medicaid rules where an unmarried person would not have to spend any money toward their partner's care.

Owning real property together can get complicated. Consider an unmarried couple buying a property solely in one person’s name, excluding the partner to sidestep any possible gift taxes. If the sole owner dies, the partner has no claim to the property. The solution could be planning for property rights in the estate plan, possibly leaving the property outright to the partner or in trust for the partner’s use throughout their lifetime. It still has to be planned for in advance of incapacity or, of course, death.

Regarding healthcare communication and directives, special care must be taken to ensure that the couple can be involved in each other’s care and decision-making. By law, decision-making might default to the married spouse or kin. Without a designated healthcare proxy, a cohabitating partner has no legal authority to obtain medical information, make medical decisions, or, in some cases, won’t even have the ability to have access to a hospitalized partner. A healthcare power of attorney is essential for unmarried couples.

A thoughtful estate plan will allow both the unmarried couple and the couple in a blended family circumstance to plan for incapacity and protection of the children and each other.  Ideally, couples are having discussions about these topics early and often.  If looking at getting married to afford some of the typical protections of a marriage, plus those mentioned above, the couple should discuss a prenuptial agreement.  If marriage is not intended, a co-habitation agreement should be crafted with an attorney (or better yet, an attorney for each person) to outline expectations and agreements in the event of a breakup or death.

Call NW Estate Law, LLC today to speak with an attorney for estate planning if you are an unmarried couple in a committed relationship.

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 6, 2023) “Estate Planning and the Legal Quirks of Retiree Cohabitation”

Client Success Stories

Mount Hood Senior Solutions
February 7, 2022.
We value and appreciate all of their hard work. Always a pleasure to work with! Communicates effectively and in a timely manner. Highly recommend
Nicole Lu
December 7, 2020.
We used Meredith for our estate planning and cohabitation contract recently after we bought a house. She was very responsive, very Covid aware/safe and lovely to work with.
Daniel Lee
January 7, 2020.
We had a great experience working with Meredith when putting together our estate planning documentation. She was always professional and courteous, explaining legal concepts and terminology in a way that was straightforward for us to understand. Meredith was responsive and open to answering our questions so we could fully evaluate different options. She provided sound recommendations for us to consider based on our current position and point in life. Even given the gravity and importance of the estate planning process, Meredith put us at ease and made us feel comfortable coming to decisions and documenting outcomes that work best for us. We intend to work with Meredith for future needs that we may have, and would highly recommend working with her to others.
Floyd Frick
March 28, 2019.
The best! .... I used Meredith to get me thru an estate settlement. It went smooth. Thanks.
Christine Borchert
August 9, 2018.
Book an Initial Call
Book an Initial Call
Schedule an available time to speak with us. We look forward to meeting with you!
Book an Initial Call
Join Our eNewsletter
Stay Informed
Stay updated by subscribing to our informative eNewsletter!
Subscribe Now!
Beaverton, Oregon Office

1865 NW 169th Place, Suite 202
Beaverton, Oregon 97006

Vancouver, Washington Office

201 NE Park Plaza Drive, Suite 200
Vancouver, Washington 98684

Integrity Marketing Solutions - Estate Planning Marketing
Powered by