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How an estate plan can protect your significant other

Increasingly, couples are choosing to postpone marriage until later in life or not marry at all. While cohabitating partners may feel married, in the eyes of the law, they aren't.

Here in California, common law marriage isn't recognized. That means that no matter how long you and your significant other have lived together, the two of you aren't entitled to some of the benefits you would automatically receive as a spouse when the other one died.

Therefore, it's essential that if you want to ensure that your partner is provided for after your death, you have a solid estate plan. It can do more than detail how you want your assets distributed. You can include documents that give your significant other the right to make financial and medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them yourself. An advance health care directive can let you detail your wishes regarding things like under what circumstances to discontinue life-sustaining measures.

An estate plan can also help all of your loved ones avoid the stress and expense of going through probate court. If your family ends up having to go through probate, under the law, they don't have to notify your partner since you had no legal relationship.

Which documents you include in your estate plan will depend in part on the amount of assets you have. Your California estate planning attorney can help you determine which documents you should include based on that and what you want to accomplish with your estate plan.

Generally if you have assets (including your home) totaling more than $150,000, it's best to set up a revocable living trust. If you have a home and you want your partner to keep that home after you die, it's essential to designate that. Otherwise, family members could literally force him or her out.

While most people would like to believe that their family and their partner will work things out amicably if they die, too often that doesn't happen. An estate plan helps provide insurance that your wishes for your significant other are carried out after you die. It also allows you to designate charitable organizations and other beneficiaries to whom you'd like to leave some money. Finally, it will make things easier for all of your loved ones after you're gone.

Source: Huffington Post, "Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples," Alexandra Smyser, accessed April 28, 2016

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