If you and your partner are among the many who believe that a long-term, committed relationship doesn’t require a marriage certificate, you still need to protect yourselves via some legal documents. For example, you may have a cohabitation agreement to designate, among other things, how you will divide your property if you break up.
You also need to protect each other’s rights if one of you becomes incapacitated or passes away. This can be done via a few estate planning documents.
Durable powers of attorney
By giving someone durable power of attorney (POA), you can authorize them to make decisions and transactions on your behalf if you’re unable to. The two crucial types of POA you’ll likely want to designate for each other are medical and financial.
If you give someone a medical POA, you can grant them the right to obtain information about your medical condition and treatment. It also gives them the right to direct your treatment. It’s best to also have an advance directive so they know what your preferences are for things like life-prolonging measures. Without a medical POA, they might not even be allowed to visit you in the hospital.
A POA for finances can allow your partner to manage any accounts and property that may be solely in your name. This can allow them to do everything from paying bills to selling a home, depending on how much authority you grant them.
Without these documents, members of your families with whom you may have little or no relationship could potentially be given the right to make these decisions rather than the person who likely knows you best.
A will is crucial if you want your partner to get some or all of your assets when you die. If a person dies without a will (intestate), the state laws of succession must be followed. This involves giving assets to relatives (people related through blood, marriage or adoption). Unless your names are both on every account and piece of property you own, that could leave the surviving partner with nothing.
Every couple is unique, so it’s best to get experienced legal advice based on your wishes and needs. This can save considerable conflict later.