For unmarried couples, it’s easy to overlook the potential benefits of a thoroughly-drafted estate plan, especially if you and your partner have kept your assets separate. However, the very fact that you and your partner are not married increases the importance of setting up a comprehensive will and estate plan.

Too many unmarried couples in North Carolina find this out too late after they discover that the protections afforded to married couples don’t automatically apply to their situation. For example, even if you’ve been a couple for years, reside together, or you’re engaged to be married, you don’t get automatic spousal rights that might apply in a medical emergency. And despite what you may see on television, North Carolina does not recognize “common law marriage” regardless of how long you’ve been together. For this and other reasons, it’s essential to find an estate planning lawyer near you to discuss the options and next steps.

Why Unmarried Couples Still Need Planning

There are many different reasons why couples choose not to get married, even if they treat their relationship with the same trust and respect as a married couple. Unfortunately for unmarried couples, not being legally married removes some critical protections for them and their loved ones. Finding an estate planning lawyer in NC who helps tailor estate plans to the needs of unmarried couples is vital for identifying these possible risks and making an action plan.

If you’ve just moved in together and are hoping for a future together, either unmarried or legally wed, don’t let time pass without searching for an “estate planning lawyer near me.” Meeting with an experienced estate planning lawyer will help you implement an effective plan.

Suppose you’re living with your partner but aren’t married. What happens if you are in an accident or suddenly or get sick and cannot speak for yourself? In those cases, you might have problems on two levels. The first is the immediate nature of dealing with the death of a loved one or your partner’s sickness. 

Similarly, what happens if you or your partner dies? Even if you’ve kept most of your financial accounts separate, issues of property rights could still come up--especially if you reside together. Who owns the house or who’s name is on the lease agreement? What happens next?

The Basic Estate Planning Tools for Unmarried Couples in NC

Although you should always meet with an estate planning lawyer to talk through specifics, at a bare minimum, there are three primary documents that every unmarried couple should complete to protect their interests.

The first is a will or a trust. A will determines how your estate will be transferred when you pass away and who will receive what. You can accomplish many of those same goals with trust, although it’s more advanced as a tool and allows for more privacy. If you want everything you own to transfer to your partner, you’ll want to list this in your will and beneficiary designations. Otherwise, without a will, the state of North Carolina determines what happens to your property. The existing laws do not protect unmarried partners and does not give your partner any priority or any portion of your estate.

A revocable living trust might be another way to protect your interests so long as you put the title of the assets in the name of the trust. Many clients prefer revocable living trusts as they reduce the court’s involvement in the settling of your estate and help keep more of your financial affairs private. Your NC estate planning lawyer can explain this critical planning step and others to consider. 

The second document all NC unmarried couples need is a healthcare directive. It gives clear instructions about end-of-life decisions if you have specific feelings about this. For example, perhaps you don’t want to be supported by life-sustaining equipment if there is little to no hope of recovery for you. If you have opinions about when you want to receive additional care versus when you’d like another decision made, put this in your advanced directive. You want your partner to be clear about your wishes here and not worry about what choice you might have made. In this case, you’re doing the hard work for them by explaining what you wanted so that if you’re ever unable to articulate that on your own, your partner can take those steps.

Finally, you need a financial power of attorney. Without a power of attorney, your unmarried partner cannot make financial decisions or sign paperwork for you if you become sick or incapacitated. Whether your partner needs to take short-term or long-term care of your finances, you want this transition to be as easy as possible for them. If you’re in an accident or dealing with a long-term illness, empower them to take quick action with this document.

Carolina Family Estate Planning Will Help You Get Your Ducks In A Row

Are you an unmarried couple with many questions about estate planning? If you’re ready to stop searching for an “estate planning attorney near me” and meet with a lawyer, reach out today. At Carolina Family Estate Planning, we understand the importance of estate planning for unmarried couples. By implementing an estate plan now, you will protect your interests, including assets, long-term care planning, and healthcare directives. Don’t delay. Give us a call at  Carolina Family Estate Planning, where we help families build better lives by planning for a secure future. We’re here to help you get your ducks in a row. Call us today at 919-443-3035 or schedule a needs assessment call

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The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the individual author or the law firm, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting based on any information included in or accessible through this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.