Many in the elderly community find themselves newly single. This can be as a result of the ever-increasing number of Grey Divorces (divorces between spouses over 50), or because of the death or incapacitation of one’s spouse. As a result, many of these newly single seniors have begun to couple, but not marry, which has implications for estate planning.
Cohabitating, but not married
If couples are not married, couples do not have the same benefits and rights of married couples. For estate planning purposes, this means there are no automatic inheritance rights. This means that without a property and legal estate plan in place, nothing will flow to the other spouse if one spouse dies.
If couples want to create inheritance rights, they will need to create testamentary documents, like a will. Though, if not executed properly, it likely will not be legally enforceable.
In addition, think about other documents, like health care directives and powers of attorney. Remember, if a couple is not married, neither has the right to direct medical care for the other, even if they verbally directed their new spouse on their wishes. One may no even be allowed in the room of a sick spouse, or have any say in final arrangements. This is all a part of estate planning.
Car have titles and homes have deeds and neither will pass to an unmarried spouse automatically. If one wants that to occur, it will need to be in a will or other estate planning documents. Alternatively, if one adds their spouse’s name to the title or deed, this may occur. Though, one will need to see how these titles are structured, like tenants in common or joint tenants with rights of survivorship, because both have different implications. One means that when the spouse passes, their interest will pass to their heirs, while the spouse will maintain their own interest, and the other, the spouse’s interest passes to the spouse on the title/deed.
For Westbury, New York, residents that are unmarried, but coupled, they should contact an attorney to ensure their estate plan is updated to include their new spouse. This does not mean one needs to get married. It just means ensuring that one’s wishes are legally enforceable.