From 2007 to 2016, according to the Census Bureau, the number of unmarried couples over fifty living together increased by seventy-five percent. This shift occurred for many reasons, including change in social acceptance, cost of living, and personal preferences. It may be to avoid the legal issues of marriage.
However, living together without being married has legal issues as well. Most of the laws related to estate planning haven't caught up with the modern cohabitation trends, and typically they're still geared toward married couples. This can be especially problematic for couples over fifty.
Let me tell you the story of Donna and Frank, a couple in their late 50s. They lived together after two years of dating. Donna became a widow in her late 40s, her husband dying of cancer and around that same time Frank and his first wife went through their divorce. Neither Donna nor Frank had any desire to remarry, but it made sense financially with their committed relationship for Frank to move out of his rented home into Donna's house.
A year into living together, Frank gets seriously injured in an accident at work and when Donna calls the hospital, they deny her access to any information about his condition and refuse to defer to her for medical decisions, as she isn't his spouse and he never prepared his power of attorney to name her responsible on his behalf.
This is a nightmare situation that we want to help couples in our areas avoid.
And getting married won't solve this problem! Spouse have no greater rights to make medical decisions for each other than perfect strangers do. The best course of action is to ensure you have the right to make medical decisions for your committed partner (or spouse) is to prepare and sign some basic estate planning documents.
The two most important issues I suggest focusing on are financial and medical, which can be covered with three important documents: a durable power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a living will. A durable power of attorney ensures your partner can manage your finances if you're incapacitated in some way, the medical doing the same for medical decisions. In your living will, you specifically lay out your wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. A HIPAA release is also important so medical providers can release information to the designated person. Other things to consider would be a dementia directive and a personal care plan.
If you have questions about legal protections or you'd like to get started on your plan to protect your significant other, call our Crossville, Tennessee office at 931-250-8585 to schedule a consultation.