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Cohabitation can make estate planning even more important

Many older adults in Massachusetts are foregoing the marriage vows and living together. This may provide some advantages to many couples, but when it comes to what happens if one party becomes incapacitated or dies, it can be problematic. Cohabitation makes estate planning even more important in order to protect the surviving party.

For instance, if the couple is not married, one partner has no legal standing when it comes to healthcare decisions, and a non-family member's right to visit a patient is often limited. Even though the party may know what the incapacitated person's wishes are, he or she may only make suggestions, which no one of obligated to honor. In order to correct this problem, the parties may execute powers of attorney for both healthcare and finances. This would allow the parties to care for each other in appropriate circumstances.

Without a will or trust, if one party dies, the other may be forced to give up assets that were shared during life. For instance, if one person owned the home the two shared and then died, the individual not on the deed or lease could be forced to move. All of the decedent's property would be distributed in accordance with the Massachusetts laws of intestacy. This means that family members would inherit, potentially leaving his or her partner in a precarious financial position.

Estate planning could remedy this and other problems that could arise from not being married. Taking the time to sit down and discuss these issues with one another will also give each other peace of mind -- not only that they will be taken care of, but also that they can take care of each other, even in death. In fact, whether a couple is married or not, an estate plan is important for every Massachusetts resident.

Source: USA Today, "Sometimes love isn't all you need", Jeff Stoffer and Joann Babiak, July 5, 2014

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