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Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples in Texas: How To Protect Your Partner

As established, estate planning in Texas refers to the process of arranging for the management and distribution of your assets after your passing. It involves creating legal documents, such as wills and trusts, to outline your wishes and ensure that your assets are distributed according to your desires. Estate planning in Texas also involves making arrangements for the care of minor children or dependents, as well as planning for potential incapacitation or disability.

The primary goal of estate planning in Texas is to protect your assets, ensure that your loved ones are cared for, and minimize the impact of taxes and legal fees on your estate. Proper estate planning can also help avoid conflicts between family members and simplify the probate process, making it easier and less stressful for your beneficiaries. In Texas, it is possible for an unmarried partner to be designated as a beneficiary under estate planning, but it requires proper documentation and planning. Texas does not automatically grant inheritance rights to unmarried partners, so it's crucial to establish clear intentions and make provisions in your estate plan to ensure your partner receives the desired assets or benefits.

Remember, it's crucial to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in Texas to ensure you comply with all applicable laws and create a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your wishes. They can provide personalized advice based on your specific circumstances. This is one of the many reasons the Law Office of Bryan Fagan will always be the best choice.

Understanding the Legal Challenges for Unmarried Couples in Texas

In Texas, the legal framework primarily recognizes married couples when it comes to inheritance, property rights, and medical decision-making. For unmarried couples, the lack of legal recognition can lead to significant challenges during incapacitation, property distribution, and end-of-life decision-making. To overcome these hurdles, unmarried couples must engage in proactive estate planning.

Key Estate Planning Tools for Unmarried Partners

  1. Will: Drafting a valid will is the cornerstone of any estate plan. It lets you specify how you want your assets distributed after death. By including your unmarried partner as a beneficiary in your will, you can give them a rightful share of your estate. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney is important to ensure your will complies with Texas laws and meets all necessary legal requirements.

  1. Durable Power of Attorney: Granting your unmarried partner a durable power of attorney allows them to make financial and legal decisions if you become incapacitated. This legal document empowers your partner to handle matters such as managing bank accounts, paying bills, and making healthcare decisions according to your wishes.

  1. Healthcare Power of Attorney: A healthcare power of attorney designates your unmarried partner as your healthcare proxy, granting them the authority to make medical decisions when you cannot. It is essential to discuss your preferences regarding medical treatments and end-of-life care with your partner and make sure these wishes are clearly documented in this legal document.

  1. Living Will or Advance Directive: A living will or advance directive outlines your preferences for end-of-life medical treatment and decisions. It guides your partner and healthcare providers on life support, resuscitation, and organ donation issues. By having a documented living will, you can ensure your partner understands your desires and can advocate for them if necessary.

  1. Joint Ownership: In Texas, owning property jointly with rights of survivorship can be an effective way to transfer assets directly to your partner upon your death, bypassing the probate process. By establishing joint ownership, you ensure that your partner will inherit the property automatically, without the need for a will or going through the intestate succession laws.

  1. Beneficiary Designations: Review and update the beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other financial assets. By naming your unmarried partner as a beneficiary, you can ensure they receive the designated benefits directly, independent of the probate process.

  1. Trusts: Establishing trust can be a powerful tool for protecting your partner's interests. A revocable living trust allows you to transfer assets into a trust during your lifetime and stipulate how they will be managed and distributed after your death. By designating your unmarried partner as a beneficiary or trustee, you provide them with ongoing financial support and protect the assets from potential creditors or legal challenges.

Risks Unmarried Partners Face Under Estate Planning in Texas

In Texas, where common law marriage is recognized, unmarried partners must navigate specific challenges regarding estate planning. Here are some of the risks that unmarried partners may encounter in estate planning in Texas:

  • Intestacy Laws: If a person dies without a valid will or estate plan in Texas, their assets will be distributed according to the state's intestacy laws. Unfortunately, these laws do not recognize unmarried partners as legal heirs. Instead, the assets typically pass to immediate family members, such as parents, siblings, or children. Consequently, unmarried partners risk losing their rights to inherit property and other assets unless specific estate planning measures are in place.

  • Lack of Decision-Making Authority: Unmarried partners may face significant hurdles regarding decision-making authority in the event of incapacity or disability. Without proper legal documentation, such as a durable or medical power of attorney, unmarried partners cannot make crucial healthcare or financial decisions on behalf of their incapacitated partner. This lack of authority can lead to delays, disputes, or even the involvement of individuals who may not have the partner's best interests in mind.

  • Estate Taxes and Benefits: Married couples enjoy certain tax benefits and exemptions that can significantly impact estate planning. For example, the marital deduction allows spouses to transfer unlimited assets to one another without incurring federal estate or gift taxes. Unmarried partners, on the other hand, do not have access to these advantages. They may face higher tax liabilities and challenge passing on their assets to their partner without incurring substantial taxes.

  • Probate Issues: Probate is the legal process of administering a deceased person's estate. Unmarried partners may encounter difficulties during probate if their relationship is not legally recognized. They may be denied the right to act as executors or administrators, potentially leading to delays and disputes. Moreover, unmarried partners may not have access to probate exemptions, such as the homestead exemption, which can impact the distribution of real estate property.

There are several reasons you may want to avoid probate. Remember that probate courts handle estates governed by wills and those without wills. If you transfer your estate to your partner in a will, certain disapproving relatives or certain other parties can contest it. If you die without a will, your estate automatically passes to your next of kin according to the intestacy laws of your state, which will leave your unmarried partner without a share of your assets.

If you're concerned about the court having jurisdiction over the distribution of your assets, keep as much of your estate as possible out of probate. Another reason to keep your estate out of probate is that probate proceedings are a matter of public record, open to anyone who inquires about them.

  • Protecting Assets: Unmarried partners often face challenges protecting their shared or individually owned assets. While married couples benefit from automatic property rights, including tenancy by the entirety and community property laws, unmarried partners must rely on other legal mechanisms to safeguard their assets. Establishing joint ownership, creating cohabitation agreements, or considering a domestic partnership can help protect assets and ensure the desired distribution in case of death or separation.

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