There was a time, not too long ago, where a huge segment of our population could not get married. An estate plan was used as a substitute for marriage vows.
Yes, I’m talking about anyone who associates themselves as a member of the LGBT community. For those people who were seeking the right to marry a member of the same-sex, estate planning was the best option to ensure that they enjoyed the same rights as a married couple, without actually being allowed to marry.
Fortunately, those dark days are behind us. But we still get calls from people who have made the conscious choice, for various reasons, not to marry their life partner, and then something tragic happens.
I had to deal with this issue earlier this week.
I received a call from a woman who had lost her boyfriend of many years. His body was found in his apartment after he failed to show up for work or answer his phone.
Unfortunately, this man didn’t leave a will (or any other estate planning documents), and he never married the woman who called my office, even though they had been dating for over 10 years.
The Consequences of Failing to Have an Estate Plan in Place if You are in a Long Term Relationship
There is no such thing as “common law marriage” in North Carolina. This was an antiquated custom that said that people who lived together for a certain number of years were presumed to be married.
Which means the nice lady that called me was pretty much out of luck. As a non-spouse and non-relative, she couldn’t inherit anything under her boyfriend’s estate. And the decedent (i.e. the boyfriend) didn’t do anyone else, family included, any favors by failing to leave an estate plan.
He left no instructions on what to do with his remains.
He left no instructions on how to divide up his personal possessions.
His bank accounts were frozen, and he left no instructions on how to divide up his financial assets.
And to top it all off, apparently, the man was estranged from his family members. Not only did they live far away (and outside the country), but they had no interest in claiming his body, coming to or planning his funeral, or probating what little he had in his estate.
All in all, it’s a pretty sad situation. But it also highlights the reasons that you absolutely must put an estate plan in place.
Why Everyone Needs an Estate Plan
This boyfriend/girlfriend situation could equally apply in the case of a couple that is engaged, but not yet married.
If you take nothing else away from this article, you must know that unless you are related by blood, adoption, or marriage, you have no legal relationship with another person, even a close friend or romantic interest, when they die or become incapacitated.
This means that if your partner dies without a will, you would have no right to inherit any of their property, even if you knew they would have wanted you to receive that property.
If you were living in their home at the time of their death and had not been added to the deed, then you could be forced to vacate the premises without recourse. This could be problematic if you had been living in that home for many years.
If you were relying on that person for financial support and were not named the beneficiary of any life insurance or retirement plans, then you would receive no financial assistance after their death.
But what if they didn’t die? What if they became incapacitated, or were admitted to the hospital for a simple procedure that went wrong?
Without a health care power of attorney, you would have no say over your loved one’s medical decisions. This is true regardless of whether you are married or not.
But if you aren’t married, even estate planning may not help you remain eligible for benefits such as certain pensions, military benefits, social security benefits, potential continuation of employer-sponsored health benefits, and much more.
So needless to say, if you have made a conscious decision to NOT get married to the love of your life (and I don’t judge, there are lots of valid reasons not to get married), you should at least sit down with an estate planning lawyer to make sure that both you and your life partner are protected in the event something happens to one of you.
Interested in Learning More?
If you are interested in learning more about how to protect your family in the event of your death or disability, please contact our office at (919) 883-4861, or fill out our online contact form and a representative of our office will give you a call back to set up a meeting.
We are currently offering a no-cost wealth planning session (a $350 value) to sit down with you and go over your options and help you get yourself organized financially and legally.
Not ready to sit down? That’s ok too.
We are in the process of scheduling in-person workshops for later this spring to provide some education about various aspects of estate planning and answer your questions about the process. Click here to learn more.