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Making room for unique relationships in California estate plans

The content of an estate plan is a compilation of wishes and how to make them come true. Los Angeles estate planning attorneys act as translators and communicators so individual desires are carried forward legally, properly and completely.

The inventory calculations that precede drafting estate planning documents include a valuation of assets and feelings. Most people want family members to be the recipients of their worldly wealth. "Family" has both personal and sometimes conflicting legal definitions.

Estate and tax laws are clear about relationships with traditional ties - spouses, children, parents and siblings. Inheritance rules are not so forgiving for personal bonds that fall outside these limited categories.

Married partners receive automatic legal benefits including rights to inherit that are unavailable to unmarried partners. Probate courts view spouses as default heirs even when decedents leave behind no estate plan. The privilege is not granted to cohabiting partners.

Wills and trusts give individuals the opportunity to choose an unconventional asset recipient. To be effective, document alterations must also take place outside an estate plan. Unmarried partners must be designated as beneficiaries to insurance proceeds, bank accounts and retirement and investment plans.

Complete estate plans also contain legal directives in the event of an individual's incapacity during life. Restrictive laws frequently exclude unmarried partners from participating in critical decisions for a loved one who cannot decide for himself. Even funeral and burial arrangements are the exclusive domain of legal family members.

Estate planning documents exist that help empower unmarried partners to take primary legal roles they otherwise would be prohibited from performing. Powers of attorney grant designees the rights to manage finances and make difficult medical choices for an incapacitated non-spouse.

California residents who receive professional legal advice can ensure that nontraditional partners are lawfully included in an estate plan. With the proper documents in place, the unique, personal definitions of family and beneficiaries are honored in legal proceedings.

Source:, "ESTATE PLANNING: Do non-married couples need to plan?" Christopher W. Yugo, May. 18, 2013

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