ESTATE PLANNING ISSUES FOR UNMARRIED AND SAME-SEX COUPLES
New state laws allowing same-sex marriage and two pending Supreme Court rulings on the subject have brought to mind the special estate planning issues faced by same-sex and other unmarried couples. Marriage comes with important legal rights and benefits that are not automatically provided to all romantic partners.
For example, the state of Florida has a default estate plan for every resident who dies without a will or trust. If you get married, this default plan is automatically adjusted; the primary beneficiary of your property changes immediately from your closest blood relatives to your new spouse. If you are unmarried, on the other hand, the default plan does not give your significant other any of your property, no matter how long or serious your relationship.
Another big area of concern is making sure your unmarried partner has access to you if you are hospitalized and that he or she can participate in the decision-making process if you are hurt or disabled. Again, the law does not give any automatic rights to couples unless they are married. This lack of rights can cause significant emotional distress when something happens to one partner and the other is left feeling helpless.
The good news is that the issues described above can be addressed through a comprehensive estate plan. A trust can give your unmarried partner the same benefits as, and potentially more control than, they would get as your spouse under Florida’s default estate plan. Ancillary planning documents such as powers of attorney and designations of health care surrogate will allow you to empower your significant other to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf. If you are interested in learning more about these documents, you are welcome to attend one of our Truth About Estate Planning workshops.