Cohabiting adults will benefit from estate planning protections

There are many mature couples in the United States, including in Texas, who choose to cohabit without getting married. Some of them may have children from prior marriages. The question is often raised regarding how these couples can engage in estate planning without having to worry that their children will contest their planning choices.

The first thing for cohabiting adults to consider is that they have no inheritance rights to each other's assets. Only a legal marriage provides statutory protections for a surviving spouse. For example, even if a married person leaves his or her full estate to someone other than the spouse, that surviving husband or wife may "take against the will" by asserting his or her statutory rights. That same legal right does not, however, apply to unmarried couples.

The answer is relatively simple: each should make a will and an estate plan that sets forth his or her respective wishes. In one typical scenario, each individual will leave his or her full estate to the other cohabitant. The estate planning tools, such as powers of attorney and health care directives, will be prepared with one's choices included.

Some couples fear that their children may be disgruntled enough to contest their wills if everything is left to the other cohabitant. Other fears arise regarding how the surviving cohabitant will distribute the remaining assets on his or her death. One answer is for each cohabitant to make gifts during life to one's children, either outright or perhaps through a living trust. This may also be done through a will, with selected assets going to one's children.

This kind of creative estate planning in Texas requires the assistance of one's estate planning attorney. It is also good to hold family meetings to explain the contours and choices in one's estate planning documents. The provisions of the will can be explained and other choices can also be discussed and determined. Having everyone onboard with a fair plan for all is the best way to assure a problem-free future.

Source: nwtimes.com, "Estate planning for non-married couples", Christopher Yugo, Sept. 4, 2016

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