Utah has always had a higher marriage rate than the national average. However, between 2011 and 2021, Utah’s marriage rate dropped 18.6%. It went from 27.3 to 22.3 marriages per 1,000 women. In other words, more and more Utahans are living together as unmarried couples. But what concerns us as a leading estate planning attorney in Utah is that unmarried couples aren’t taking estate planning as seriously as they should.
Most couples fail to understand that you need to take a few extra precautions to protect each other if your partner is not your spouse. Estate planning for unmarried couples differs significantly from that of married couples. Like most other states, unmarried couples do not enjoy the same rights as married couples because the latter is a legally recognized union.
Let’s understand how estate planning for unmarried couples works.
Get Your Basic Estate Planning in Place
Whether married or not, couples need a few estate planning documents to secure each other’s future. However, unmarried couples, including same-sex partners and heterosexual partners who live together, often face unique challenges. They may have to go through prolonged legal processes when it comes to inheritance, property rights, and medical decision-making.
Here are three fundamental estate planning documents you need.
1. Living Will with A Health Care Proxy
A Living Will is a legal document detailing your medical treatment preferences if you cannot communicate. In Utah, you can appoint a Health Care Proxy. It is someone you trust who ensures your wishes get respected.
They can make critical medical decisions on your behalf, keeping them in line with your values and beliefs. Consult your estate planning attorney in Utah to get this document drafted as you desire.
2. Durable Power of Attorney
Another estate planning document you need is a durable power of attorney. It allows someone you trust to manage your financial and legal affairs when you are incapacitated. Unlike married couples, unmarried couples may not have joint bank accounts.
That means your partner may not be able to access funds for daily care and medical bills when you aren’t fit to do so. You need a power attorney to ease the financial burden on your partner. Contact a competent estate planning attorney in Utah to create yours.
3. Last Will and Testament
The Last Will and Testament outlines how your assets get distributed after your death. In Utah, the state decides asset distribution if you die without a will. That may not work in favor of your partner or children. So, it is critical to create your last will and testament.
Be sure to provide clear instructions, safeguarding your partner’s future. Outline the details such that there are no potential disputes. It will ensure your legacy gets managed as per your desires. Talk to your estate planning attorney in Utah now.
A Few Important Things You Need to Remember
As mentioned before, if you are in a committed long-term relationship but not married, you may not enjoy the same rights as married individuals. This is especially true in regard to the property acquired during your relationship. So, estate planning for unmarried couples needs to be a bit different. Whatever documents you create, make sure to remember the following things.
1. Get A Life Insurance Policy
Married couples can receive each other’s pensions and social security benefits. But unmarried couples don’t enjoy these benefits. So, if you want to provide for one another, both of you will need to purchase a life insurance policy.
It’s the only way to ensure your partner is looked after when you hit the bucket. Talk to your estate planning attorney in Utah to understand how much insurance coverage you need to help your partner live a stress-free life after your death.
2. Make Your Partner a Joint Tenant
Another important thing to remember is to name your partner as a Joint Tenant. A joint tenancy is one of the most common ways for an unmarried couple to own property in Utah. It allows your partner to own the property automatically after your death.
However, there’s one drawback. Naming your partner as a joint tenant also opens them to any debts or liens on your property. Another option you have is creating a revocable living trust, also called an inter vivos trust. It offers flexibility and privacy, unlike any other estate planning options.
But the biggest advantage of a revocable living trust is the privacy. With a will, your asset distribution goes through probate, which becomes a public record. But a trust doesn’t go through probate and is not made public. A revocable living trust also offers better security as it is more difficult to challenge than a will. Still, it’s best to consult your estate planning attorney in Utah first. They will help you find the best possible solution depending on your needs.
3. Make Your Wills
You must at least write a will if you don’t want to create trust. But more importantly, both of you need to write to each other in your wills. This estate planning document will help you outline who will receive what when your assets finally get divided. Consult a competent estate planning attorney in Utah to chalk out your will. But you should remember that a will cannot avoid probate. The assets you distribute will become a part of the public record eventually.
4. Sign a Cohabitation Agreement
In Utah, unmarried couples can enter into a cohabitation agreement. In the 2011 case Meyers vs. Meyers, the Utah Supreme Court stated that a cohabiting couple must share a residence, and their relationship must have the ‘hallmarks’ of a marriage. If not, they are not considered cohabitants.
So, merely shacking up with your partner may not suffice to create a cohabitation agreement. However, talk to a skilled estate planning attorney in Utah first. They can help you understand if this agreement is the right option for you as an unmarried couple.
Whether married or not, as a couple, you should consider estate planning a top priority. However, estate planning for unmarried couples is often more challenging than for those who are married. But it is possible to plan everything to ensure your partner can lead a stress-free life after your death. Hopefully, this post will help you understand your estate planning choices as an unmarried couple.
Are you looking for an estate planning attorney in Utah? Your search ends here. At Jeremy Atwood, we help individuals, married and unmarried couples, and families with estate planning. Schedule a consultation today to discuss your options.