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How being in an unmarried partnership can affect estate planning

For many couples in Baton Rouge, marriage is not necessary to prove their love and commitment to each other. Many are happy spending their together without going through the ceremony of exchanging vows in front of witnesses. Others have been married before and don’t want to do it again because of the difficulties of going through divorce, or for religious reasons.

Whatever works for you and your partner is what you should do. But being in an unmarried couple can complicate things when you go through estate planning.

The probate differences between married and unmarried couples in Baton Rouge

Like other states, Louisiana has intestate laws that apply when someone dies without a valid will. Typically, the deceased’s surviving spouse gets first priority to inherit the estate. But for that to apply, the deceased and their spouse must have been legally married. And Louisiana does not recognize common-law marriage, so no matter how long you have lived with your partner, you either are married or not. Thus, the estate would go to different heirs, such as your children or parents, no matter what you would have wanted.

Naming your partner as an heir in your will or beneficiary in your trust takes care of the intestacy issue. But there are other estate planning-related rules that favor married people, such as:

  • Unmarried people are not entitled to Social Security spouse’s or survivor’s benefits.
  • Estate and gift taxes tend to apply to unmarried surviving partners more than surviving spouses.
  • The right to make healthcare and end-of-life decisions for an incapacitated person goes to the spouse, or next of kin if the person is not married. An unmarried partner does not automatically have that right.
  • An unmarried partner who is the non-spouse beneficiary of their deceased partner’s IRA retirement account must deal with stricter requirements when they try to withdraw funds.

Fortunately, most of these legal disadvantages can be fixed using careful estate planning. An estate planning lawyer can go over your priorities and explain what a plan tailored to you would look like.