Q: My partner and I have been living together for almost 10 years. Is there anything special that we need to add to our wills?
A: Cohabitating adults have to address certain issues that married couples don't. The problem is they are in a sort of legal limbo. The state isn't going to prohibit them from living together, but on the other hand it isn't going to grant them the same rights it grants to married couples.
When a couple marries, the state grants them certain rights including inheritance rights. If a married individual dies, the surviving spouse has inheritance rights even if the deceased spouse fails to leave a will. The intestate statutes provide the surviving spouse the right to inherit a portion of the deceased spouses estate. Even if the deceased spouse leaves a will disinheriting the surviving spouse, he or she may still take against the will and receive a portion of the estate. Indiana, like most states, tries to look out for the surviving spouse.
The same cannot be said for cohabitating individuals. The state isn't looking out for their rights. That's why it is so important for folks who are living together to prepare an estate plan. If you want your partner to inherit your property, execute a will or trust. Name them beneficiary on your bank accounts and investments. Name your partner personal representative of your estate. In other words, plan.
Although planning for a death is important, it is equally important to plan for events that might occur during a lifetime.
Remember that cohabitating adults do not share a state recognized family relationship. That means issues relating to medical care and even visitation rights need to be addressed. Hospitals may restrict non-family members from visiting with a sick partner. After all, they aren't family. At least not in the legal sense.
To plan for this, a health care representative designation is an essential estate planning document. Without a health care appointment, the doctors and hospital may be legally prohibited from discussing a sick partner's condition and a hospital may not let them in the room.
Another concern should be disposition of the remains of a loved one. Unless you plan, your partner may not have any say in what happens with your remains following death. By executing a funeral planning declaration, you can designate your partner as the person who makes your final arrangements. That way, you can be assured that your partner can plan and be a part of your funeral.