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How does estate planning differ for unmarried couples?

St. Paul families come in all different shapes and sizes. Whether by birth, marriage or otherwise, individuals have many different kinds relationships with one another, for many different reasons. While each of these different relationships holds value, the estate planning considerations can vary significantly depending on what relationship is involved.

A good example of this is the distinction between married and unmarried couples. While some people choose to get married, and others choose not to, this decision can extend far beyond marriage itself and impact a person's rights after the loved one's death.

For instance, for unmarried couples who share a home together, the surviving individual may not have any rights if he or she does not own the home. If the deceased person has children, the children may be entitled to the home immediately, and the surviving member of the relationship might be forced to surrender the property.

Accordingly, estate planning is vital, as it can provide options to protect a surviving loved one, even in the absence of marriage. In the scenario above, for instance, the surviving member of the relationship might be given a life estate in the property. This would entitle the person to continue living in the home, even if the home will ultimately go to the deceased person's children after the surviving member passes away.

Whether a couple is married or not can also play a significant part in the estate taxes that are paid at death. Estate law allows spouses to obtain assets from the deceased spouse without paying taxes on those assets. There is also the concept of portability, which provides significant benefits to spouses in doubling the size of the estate tax exemption. These options do not exist for individuals who are not spouses.

Ultimately, individuals should remain free to conduct their relationships as they choose. The important thing is to recognize the consequences of being married or unmarried when it comes to estate planning, and what options exist to protect loved ones no matter what relationship the couple may be in.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Retirement: estate planning for unmarried couples," Sandra Block, April 8, 2015

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