If you are legally unmarried and have a partner in California, you may have unaddressed estate planning needs. Estate planning can give you peace of mind about your partner’s ability to inherit from you, make medical decisions for you, and more.
Giving an Inheritance to Your Partner
Unless you have a common law marriage that is recognized in another state (California does not recognize common law marriage), your partner will not automatically inherit from you. Intestate succession, the line of inheritance if you have no will, defaults to giving your estate to spouses, children, and other relatives.
Since you probably want to give all or part of your estate to your partner, you need a will or another estate planning structure. In a will, you can leave your estate to anyone – not just blood relatives or spouses. Further, to make a valid will in California, you must follow specific legal requirements. Writing down your wishes on a piece of paper kept in your safe is not sufficient and could jeopardize your partner’s ability to inherit.
You could also consider creating a trust. In California, a trust can provide income to a partner for as long as you wish, while preventing your family members (and potentially creditors) from accessing the money.
Permitting Your Partner to Make Medical Decisions for You
In California and other states, your doctors most likely will not allow your partner to make any medical decisions for you. Unfortunately, the medical system defaults to blood relatives in the absence of a marriage certificate. But you have ways to permit your partner to make medical decisions if you are incapacitated. You need to sign a medical power of attorney or an advance health care directive, naming your partner as your agent. Without one of these documents, your partner may be shut out of medical decision-making – or even not allowed to visit you in the hospital.
Check the Rest of Your Estate Too
While you are doing all this estate planning, be sure to check that other items you own will go to your partner. For example, you may have a 401(k) or other retirement accounts such as IRAs. You need to fill out beneficiary forms naming your partner in order for him or her to receive the accounts if you pass away. The same is true for life insurance – you need to fill out a form to allow your partner to receive the proceeds. While it may be a pain to find all these forms, you will have peace of mind that your partner is protected.
Planning your estate? Look to Janet Brewer, Esq. for thorough and thoughtful estate planning advice. Janet’s more than 20 years of legal experience will give you confidence and peace of mind. To schedule a “Get Acquainted” meeting, visit Janet's website or call her office at (650) 469-8206.