Many couples build lives together and remain in committed relationships for many years, but they never feel the need to codify their relationship with a marriage certificate. While these relationships often last longer than many marriages, the law doesn’t recognize the importance of an unmarried relationship when it comes to what happens when you die or if you become incapacitated.
That’s why if you’re in one of those couples, you and your partner need to protect yourselves and each other with estate planning documents you need to have if you want your partner to have the same authority and benefits that a spouse would likely automatically receive.
Powers of attorney for finances and medical care
You can designate your partner to have power of attorney (POA) over whatever financial decisions and transactions you choose if you’re unable to (for example, if you’re seriously ill or injured). Even if many of your assets are jointly owned, there may be others that aren’t. This POA can help ensure that they’re able to transfer money from individually owned accounts or liquidate assets if necessary to cover your medical care and other expenses.
You can also give your partner POA over your health care. This gives them the necessary authority to get and give information regarding your medical condition in a crisis that they otherwise wouldn’t have. In conjunction with this, it’s wise to have an advance health care directive (also known as a living will) to detail your wishes for life-prolonging measures, organ donation and other end-of-life decisions.
This is the core estate plan document. Anyone who dies without one dies “intestate.” That means their assets are distributed among relatives according to Alabama law. The order is based on familial relationship, and two committed non-married adults don’t have a familial relationship.
That means your assets could go to parents, siblings, grandparents and others with whom you may have little or no relationship with, instead of your partner. By designating your partner as a beneficiary in your will, they’ll receive whatever you choose to leave them. There are other steps you can take, such as making them the beneficiary of your retirement and investment accounts.
You’ll both want to put these and potentially other documents in place to ensure these rights and protections for each other and (if you have them) for your children. A good first step is to get experienced legal guidance for your estate planning goals.