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Protecting Your Unmarried Partner in an Estate Plan

lawyer talking with elder couple about estate plan when not married

While creating a comprehensive estate is beneficial for all Floridians, it is essential to have one to provide for your  unmarried partner. Unmarried couples in Naples, Florida is not uncommon. But if you want to make sure your partner receives some financial assets upon your death, you need to make a estate plan that designates him or her to be a beneficiary of your estate.

In Florida, if a married person dies without a will, their property will pass to their surviving spouse and children. Additionally, there are special laws to protect a surviving spouse, including the elective share and homestead allowance. In contrast, an unmarried partner has no protection under Florida law. Without a comprehensive estate plan, your unmarried partner could be left with nothing.

Estate planning as an unmarried couple is critical, but with the help of a qualified estate planning attorney, it does not need to be daunting or overwhelming. Below are some steps that you can take to protect your unmarried partner when making an estate plan in Naples.

1. Draft a Will. In a Last Will and Testament, you can state who you want to leave your property to at your death. If you die without a will, your property will be distributed according to Florida’s intestate laws. It will go to your children, parents, siblings, or other heirs. Your unmarried partner will not inherited, no matter that you had a relationship “like you were married.”  Each partner in the relationship should have a well written and executed will where they can designate what part of the estate will go to provide for the other upon death.

2. Create a Trust. In addition to a will, unmarried partners should consider adding a trust to their estate plan. A trust is a legal arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary. With a trust, you can ensure that your property will pass to your unmarried partner or any other chosen beneficiaries at your death.

Furthermore, trusts avoid probate, which has various benefits, including that it is private and cannot be challenged by interested parties. This particularly helps unmarried partners who have family members that do not recognize the validity of their relationship.

3. Ensure Real Property is Properly Titled. One way to pass on property to an unmarried partner is to title the property jointly with the right of survivorship. As joint tenants, each partner owns an equal share of the property. When the first joint owner dies, the surviving partner will immediately get ownership of the entire property. As an added benefit, joint ownership with the right of survivorship avoids probate, saving your unmarried partner time and expense.

If the property’s title is only held in one person’s name and the partners are not married, the unmarried partner will not automatically assume ownership. This is true even if both parties were making mortgage payments and contributed to the bills and upkeep.

4. Update Beneficiary Designations. Certain assets, like retirement accounts and life insurance, pass outside of probate and go directly to the designated beneficiary, regardless of what is written in the will. It is critical to review and update these beneficiary designations if you want your unmarried partner to receive this property at your death. If your partner is not named, they will have no access to these accounts. It is critical not to overlook this step because these accounts often are people’s largest assets.

5. Create a Durable Power of Attorney. With a durable power of attorney, you can designate your unmarried partner as your agent and give them the power to handle your financial affairs on your behalf, such as paying bills, accessing bank accounts, and filing tax returns. If you become incapacitated and have no financial power of attorney, your unmarried partner will have no ability to manage your financial affairs. A guardianship would have to be appointed by a judge in a lengthy and expensive court process. There is no guarantee that the court would appoint your unmarried partner.

6. Create a Property Settlement Memorandum. A property settlement memorandum is a written list of all personal property and its recipients at your death that is referenced in your will or trust. It is especially helpful for unmarried partners if it is expected that disputes could arise with other family members. It is a way you can clearly communicate who should get what.

Call A Naples Estate Planning Attorney

Protecting your unmarried partner through proper estate planning is a loving act. You both should consult with an experienced Naples estate planning attorney like James R. Nici to create a comprehensive estate plan that fits your situation. You will have peace of mind that your unmarried partner is provided for. Contact our offices today at (239) 449-6150 or use our web form to set up a free consultation.

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