New York State law provides additional protection to ensure that married couples inherit a loved one’s property. However, in terms of estate planning for unmarried couples, the situation is different. In these cases, there is a risk of accidentally disinheriting your life partners.

Regardless of why you didn’t decide to get married, it doesn’t matter, what is vital is that you create an estate plan that covers the other if the unthinkable happens.

Estate Planning Issues For Unmarried Couples In New York

There are things that must be prepared so an unmarried couple can take care of each other while they are living. The following are some legal issues that unmarried couples can face and should be fixed through an estate plan.

  • No right to direct medical care for each other: A cohabiting couple has no right to this, including seeing their partner as a visitor in a healthcare facility or speaking with the healthcare provider. In case a partner is incapacitated and the other partner has to make a decision, they won’t have the legal right to make any medical decisions nor to speak with the healthcare provider.
  • If the couple owns a home together: They must confirm if they are joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants in common. In other words, they must confirm how the home is titled. If they want the surviving partner to remain in the home that must be properly and legally documented.
  • If the couple owns vehicles separately those vehicles have their own titles: The title must be reissued by the state in case they want to add their partner’s name to the vehicle.

In the next section, we will show you tips to solve these and other dilemmas that can arise for unmarried couples.

Remember that at Ortiz & Ortiz we have been solving estate planning matters and serving clients throughout Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island for over 30 years. Don’t hesitate to call us and let us know your case.

Estate Planning Tips And Strategies For Unmarried Couples To Consider In 2023

Don’t be alarmed, being unmarried doesn’t mean giving up on your partner inheriting your estate. However, you must take legal action while you are alive so that your partner can inherit your estate. Otherwise, in addition to losing you, they could lose your home and the shared income of a lifetime together.

Here are some tools and strategies to prevent this from happening:

Update Your Beneficiary Designations

New York law allows residents to add a POD (Payable-On-Death) designation on certificates of deposit, bank accounts, insurance policies, and retirement bank accounts. If you name your partner as beneficiary and they want to access the funds, all they need to do is bring a copy of the death certificate to the bank.

A Digital Estate Plan

The reality is that the entire estate cannot be accounted for if you do not create a digital estate plan with it. In an increasingly digital world, technology is already a frequent part of our lives. Therefore, you should also plan your digital assets. Desktop computers, laptops, Smartphones, and online accounts that contain intellectual property or sensitive information will have to be planned for.

Protect The Family Home

In the scenario where only one of you is listed on the deed to the home, the unnamed partner may be passed over during probate. This means that the house will be inherited by the nearest blood relative. When you establish joint tenancy, the home transfers immediately to your partner upon your death. As an added bonus the property will also avoid probate.

Accept And Acknowledge Other Heirs With A Will

With the creation of a will, it is possible to name your partner as a beneficiary in your will if you would like your assets to be transferred to them if you pass away. You can provide for your partner at the same time as you leave assets to the other loved ones in your life.

In a scenario where one of you has children, you may be able to create a life estate for the surviving partner. This gives the partner the right to live in the home until they pass away and the house is left to the children. With the use of your will, you can clearly designate which assets are set aside for your other relatives and which ones go to your partner.

Creation Of Powers Of Attorney

Durable powers of attorneys are one of the most useful tools for unmarried couples in New York. Without a power of attorney, your partner won’t have access to your funds or the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Please note that you will need two documents, a financial power of attorney and a healthcare proxy (medical power of attorney).

As soon as your partner is appointed as your power of attorney, they will be able to receive information about your health and treatment, pay your bills, and make key life decisions in the event you become incapacitated.

Creating A Tax Plan

Note that although federal tax laws allow married couples to inherit an unlimited amount of property for estate taxes, this exemption does not apply to unmarried couples. Therefore it is a key point to consider to avoid losing an important portion of your estate to federal and state taxes.

Ensuring The Guardianship Of Minor Children

If you or your partner have children, you will need to consider the legal paths available to ensure that your minor children remain in your care in the event that one of you dies. Options are available even in cases of adoption.

A Letter Of Instruction

Using this tool, unmarried couples can document their wishes that will be carried out upon death. These letters may include detailed instructions for their partners including passcodes and passwords to safes or online accounts where assets may be located, potential bills that must be addressed and others.

To ensure that nothing is left out, get in touch with our experienced estate planning attorney in New York to draft a letter of instruction.

Write A “Living Together Agreement” (Cohabitation Agreement)

Another option to consider in New York is a living together agreement. This cohabitation agreement helps couples protect their rights while safeguarding their individual assets and interests.

The main objective of this cohabitation agreement is to prevent conflict over ownership in the event of a split or death of either of the partners.

A Revocable Trust To Avoid Probate

Through the use of a revocable trust, you can name your partner as a trustee so that this allows you to make financial decisions and manage your assets both while you are alive or dead and also in the event that you become mentally incapacitated.

Joint Ownership

Owning property jointly with your partner through the right of survivorship is a way to make sure property passes to an unmarried partner. In the event of a joint tenant dying, their interests immediately cease to exist and the remaining joint tenants own the entire property. This is also a good way to avoid probate.

The Importance Of Having An Estate Plan For Unmarried Couples

It is even more important for unmarried couples to have an estate plan than for married couples especially when the family includes minor children. Unmarried couples must address estate planning with great care if they wish to protect their loved ones.

Even today, unmarried couples do not enjoy all the protection that marriage provides, but the good news is that, as we have read before, these protections can be obtained through a well-prepared estate plan.

Therefore, as you can see, if the couple truly wants inheritance rights, they need to create an appropriate estate plan and execute testamentary documents such as wills.

A will is the starting point of an estate plan and for unmarried couples is key to have it professionally prepared by an experienced New York wills lawyer. Any plan must address both the expected and unexpected events of life.

Ortiz & Ortiz is experienced in guiding clients through matters of estate planning and administration, commercial litigation, business law, and bankruptcy.