In today's society, it's not uncommon for couples to share a life without the formalities of marriage. However, when it comes to estate planning, unmarried couples face unique challenges that married couples typically do not. Pennsylvania, much like other states, has legal provisions that safeguard the interests of legally married spouses. Yet, these provisions often do not extend to unmarried couples, making specialized estate planning an essential step for protecting your partner and ensuring your wishes are honored upon your death or incapacity.
Why Unmarried Couples in Pennsylvania Require Specialized Estate Planning
Pennsylvania law does not automatically extend spousal rights to unmarried partners, meaning that if you fail to make an estate plan, your assets will be governed by the Commonwealth’s intestate succession laws. These laws prioritize the distribution of your assets to your closest blood relatives, such as parents, siblings, or even distant relatives. In this arrangement, your unmarried partner would likely not receive anything, resulting in unintended and potentially devastating outcomes. Here are some important tools and options to consider for unmarried couples planning their estates in Pennsylvania.
Joint Ownership of Property
Joint ownership is a viable strategy to make certain your property will go directly to your partner upon your death. In Pennsylvania, this can be structured through methods such as joint tenancy with the right of survivorship. When a property is jointly owned in this manner, it will automatically pass to the surviving owner, bypassing the often cumbersome and lengthy probate process.
Wills and Trusts
A well-drafted will is a cornerstone for any sound estate plan but becomes even more critical for unmarried couples. A will allows you to articulate explicitly how your assets should be divided and who should receive them. If you have minor children, the will can also establish guardianship directives.
Trusts offer another layer of control and can be a practical tool in managing assets both during your life and after your death. For example, a revocable living trust can be altered or annulled during your lifetime but becomes unalterable upon your death, offering a streamlined transfer of assets.
Power of Attorney and Health Care Directives
Given that unmarried partners in Pennsylvania do not automatically have the legal authority to make financial or health care decisions on behalf of each other, instruments like a financial power of attorney and health care directives become essential. A financial power of attorney will enable you to appoint your partner, or another individual you trust, to oversee your financial matters should you become unable to do so. Likewise, health care directives and living wills allow you to nominate someone to make critical medical decisions on your behalf.
Unmarried couples do not enjoy the tax benefits extended to married pairs, such as unlimited marital deductions. However, with proper estate planning, there are ways to mitigate the impact of both federal and Pennsylvania state estate and gift taxes. Strategies like annual gifting within exemption limits or establishing specialized trusts can be highly effective in reducing your tax burden.
Consult a Skilled Pennsylvania Estate Planning Attorney at Labletta & Walters LLC Today
If you and your partner are contemplating an estate plan that aligns with your unique needs and circumstances, the adept legal team at Labletta & Walters LLC is prepared to assist you. With a strong focus on Pennsylvania's nuanced estate laws, we are dedicated to crafting plans that fulfill your intentions and secure your future. Reach out to us today for a comprehensive consultation.
By taking these vital estate planning steps, you can better ensure that your wishes will be honored, and your partner's rights protected, in a state where the law might not otherwise provide for these outcomes.