Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples, Part 1

Sometimes, for whatever reason, people form relationships but are unable, or unwilling, to marry each other.

Nonetheless, there is a loving relationship there, and they want to make provision for each other.

The problem is twofold; first, if they are not married, or if they are unable to marry, the law does not recognize the relationship unless the couple does something to create a relationship that the law recognizes. Second, relationships change; people move on and sometimes they separate. While a married couple can file for divorce and have a judge decide what happens; if they are unmarried, the ‘break up’ procedure can be much more messy, particularly if it involves who owns what.

Nonetheless, there are things that can be done.

Generally speaking; there’s two aspects to planning: estate planning, or providing for the surviving partner after the other partners death, and what I call “lifetime planning” or making provision so that one person can look after the interests of the other during both of their lifetimes.

With respect to estate planning, assuming that each individual is competent, that is, over 18, and has not been declared incompetent, each can make a will and leave the other partner their property.  However, the problem with that is after the persons death, the will would have to be deposited with the court and a probate opened.  At that point, it is possible, though not necessarily likely, that the will could be challenged by someone else; be it a child, a niece, nephew or sibling of the person that died.  How likely that is depends on the relationship but it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.

What may be a better approach is transferring property outside of probate.  Generally speaking, there’s two ways this could be accomplished; by operation of law, where the other partner would be put on the ownership papers as a co-owner during the persons lifetime, or by contract, meaning that the other partner is named as a pay on death, or transfer on death, beneficiary.  For reasons I will more fully discuss in the follow up post to this, I think the better choice I think that in most cases, naming the other person as “pay on death” beneficiary is better than naming them as a co-owner during their lifetime. The advantage of doing this instead of a will is that there is no public filing of the assets of the estate; and all that has to be done is to provide a copy of the death certificate to the bank, agent, or broker after the person dies. It is relatively quick, simple and easy.


If you want to make provisions for an unmarried partner in The Villages, Florida, please call my office and I will be happy to discuss your options.

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