Marriage and aging are often triggers for people to have their estate plans in order, but, it’s equally if not more important for unmarried couples to have well-drafted estate plans as well. We often think of cohabiters as being young, although over 4 million are over the age of fifty, 900,000 of whom are over the age of 65.

The trend is brought on by a combination of factors including rising divorce rates, aging baby boomers, and more expansive views of relationships.  Cohabitation brings economic stability, companionship, intimacy, and wards off isolation. However, unlike marriage, cohabitation does not affect government or pension benefits, make you responsible for your partner’s debt, nor render your partner ineligible for Medicaid.  However, there are many additional estate planning concerns that are impacted by the decision of whether to marry.

For unmarried couples, it is critical to document whether you want your partner as a decision maker if you become incapacitated.  Without the proper documentation, unmarried partners could be “frozen out” from hospital visits.  In addition, cohabitants have to plan whether they will support their partners financially, especially if their health declines, and decide whether to include them as a beneficiary of their will. The situation only becomes more complicated where the seniors have adult children from prior marriages. This trend emphasizes the need for couples to communicate with each other and their children about long-term care planning. Finally, marriage has both income and estate tax implications that should be discussed with professional advisors.

As the article demonstrates “in many ways, cohabitation among older people remains improvisational, only recently a common phenomenon, one that couples shape to suit them.” While estate planning is important for every adult, regardless of their age or marital status, older, unmarried couples should take special note to update their estate plans to reflect their specific relationship, as well as personal and financial goals. Read the full article.

If you have questions, contact attorney Charles Bendig at 614.878.7777