Increasingly couples are pairing up and living together in long relationships without getting married. What was once frowned upon in our society no longer is.
According to a Pew Research study, since 2007 there has been a 75% increase in the number of cohabiting couples over the age of 50. Does Massachusetts law recognize long-standing relationships as common law marriage? No! If you want the benefits of a marriage without a legal ceremony then you need to do estate planning. Now, not “later.”
If you expect to be involved in any decisions regarding your partner, (should your partner become cognitively disabled) then you better have him or her do some estate planning. This means a Health Care Proxy for medical decisions and a Power of Attorney for financial authority. Can you imagine the mess if your partner of 30 years has a stroke and his long-lost niece steps in to handle his affairs?
It may surprise you that the law and the courts have a bias towards blood relatives serving as court-appointed fiduciaries. Keep the decision as to who is in charge out of the court: sign documents now while you are cognitively able. Conversely, would you want your long-lost nephew coming out of the woodwork and pushing your partner to the sideline?
What about the passing of assets at death? Does a life partner have any claim to an inheritance? No, no, no! If you expect to inherit from your partner (or for your partner to inherit from you) then you need to sign the paperwork and documents now…not after your death or your partner’s. The documents may include a Will, adding him/her as a co-owner to any asset (including your home), naming him/her as a beneficiary of your retirement account or life insurance or setting up a trust.
I am 63 years old. I recognize that death can happen in the blink of an eye. You need to prepare for that. The other night I was watching the movie John Q. Denzel Washington plays the father. In one scene Denzel says a casual goodbye and the 6-year-old son replies “Dad…it’s see you later, not goodbye.” We never actually know if our parting words to our buddy, partner or spouse are the last words. You know the adage about partners not going to bed mad at each other. There is a reason for that…you don’t want those harsh words to be the final interaction with your departed partner. Do the right thing. Don’t deny your mortality. Act now or forever hold your peace or your partner’s.