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Estate planning plays a role for unmarried cohabiting couples

Unmarried couples in West Virginia may think that they have no need to prepare an estate plan. To the contrary, there are some important reasons why the estate planning process can be useful even to unmarried couples. For one thing, the two partners can appoint each other to make medical decisions on each other's behalf when the other is unable to do so.

That goal may be achieved by preparing a health care power of attorney or similar legal document. It authorizes and empowers the other person in the relationship to communicate medical choices to the partner's medical doctors in specified circumstances. A living will is a legal directive that tells medical providers whether the individual wants to be artificially maintained in the face of brain death or a similar physiological state.

Unmarried partners will not be able to participate in or direct medical care decisions and preferences without having the above health care documents properly established. It is even possible that the partner receiving health care in that situation will become totally disabled and unable to function or communicate on his own behalf. It may be necessary to expend substantial sums to have a court appoint a guardian to legally handle many of the tasks that could have been done through some foresight in planning ahead.

There are other important reasons to prepare estate planning documents for unmarried couples. There are vagaries of real estate practice in which the partners may consider the property to be jointly-owned, but it is titled in only one party's name. It can be disposed of to the other partner through a will or trust agreement or by deed. In West Virginia and elsewhere, the subject matter regarding this issue is complex and widespread, far beyond the foregoing issues. The unmarried couple will benefit from consulting with an estate planning attorney in order to fully understand their rights and their options.

Source: wilmingtonbiz.com, "The Importance Of Estate Planning For Unmarried Couples by Kara Gansmann", Ron Lieber, July 21, 2017

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