If you die without putting an estate plan in place, your assets will be
distributed in accordance with the default estate plan set up for you
by the state in which you live. If you are married, that default estate
plan usually includes your spouse in some way. That default estate plan
does not include your significant other in a committed relationship that
is not a legal marriage recognized by the state in which you live.
Also, if you have an accident and end up unconscious in the hospital and
unable to communicate your wishes regarding your health care needs, if
you have not designated a healthcare surrogate (spokesperson), the law
in your state will designate a default healthcare surrogate for you. Often,
that default surrogate is your spouse. The default surrogate will not
be your significant other in a committed relationship that is not a legal
marriage recognized by the state in which you live.
Everyone should consider putting an estate plan in place. However, with
the reality being that not everyone is proactive enough to get this done,
the state steps in and puts the default safety net estate plan in place.
If you are married, the default may help take care of your spouse despite
your failure to plan. Significant others in relationships that are not
marriage do not have this safety net. Without affirmative actions on your
part, your significant other may be left with none of your assets and
left with no say in your medical care.
Therefore, unmarried couples in committed relationships have an even more
compelling need to plan ahead and formalize their wishes for each other
in an estate plan. A failure to plan on your part could result in your
significant other dealing with the heartache of emotional loss as well
as the devastation of unexpected financial loss.