Four Estate Planning Tips for Long-Term Cohabiting Couples in North Carolina

A larger and larger share of American are in long-term, cohabiting relationships. Essentially, this means more people involved in an intimate relationship are living together for long periods before getting married or without an intention to get married. According to data provided by the Pew Research Center, 59% of adults nationwide have lived with an unmarried partner.

If you are part of an unmarried couple and you are planning to stay with your partner for the long-term, there are some important estate planning implications that you should know. Our North Carolina estate planning attorneys will offer four actionable tips for unmarried couples in North Carolina below.

1. Know the Law: Your and Your Partner Have No Automatic Rights

The single most important thing that cohabiting couples need to know about creating an estate plan is that unmarried couples do not have any automatic legal rights. For married couples, there is some automatic legal protection in place. As an example, if a married person passes away without setting up an estate plan, their spouse will be a primary heir under North Carolina’s intestacy laws. That is simply not the case for cohabiting couples. No matter how long you and your partner have been together, you have no automatic legal rights.

2. A Comprehensive Estate Plan is Crucial for Long-Term Unmarried Couples

Knowing that North Carolina law provides limited automatic protection to unmarried couples can be stressful. That being said, there is good news: You do not have to be married to set up an effective estate plan. Estate planning gives you full control over property, assets, and future financial/medical needs. With a comprehensive estate plan in place, you and your partner will be fully protected under North Carolina law.

As a starting point, both you and your partner should have a will. If you choose, you can make your partner your full beneficiary. Of course, that is not required. You can set up your estate plan to meet your specific goals and needs. Likewise, you can also give your partner the legal authority that they need to make financial or medical decisions on your behalf if they are not able to do so.

3. Review Your Beneficiary Designations

Beneficiary designations are one of the most overlooked aspects of estate planning. If you have a retirement account, life insurance policy, or any other account that can be assigned to a beneficiary, you should make sure that your designations are fully up-to-date. When set up properly, a valid beneficiary designation allows the proceeds of an account to pass directly to a selected heir—meaning it can avoid the probate process.

You can make your cohabiting partner your beneficiary on some (or all) of your accounts. Of course, once again, you are not required to do so. You have the right to control your own estate. If you have any questions about beneficiary designations and estate planning, contact our North Carolina attorneys for help.

4. Unmarried Parents Should Take Special Care to Protect Their Family

If you share a child with your cohabitant and/or unmarried partner, it is imperative that you work together to craft an estate planning strategy that works effectively for your family. Most importantly, an estate plan should ensure that your children are fully protected, no matter what might happen tomorrow. As a general rule, you should always name a guardian for your kids. Doing so can help to ensure that someone will always be around to care for them.

It is also important to remember that your unmarried partner has no automatic inheritance rights under North Carolina law—even if you share children. That being said, if you leave property directly to your minor children or if you fail to put an estate plan in place, your co-parent may end up in control of some or all of those assets. Either way, it is important to set up an estate plan that effectively carries out your objectives.

Speak to a Wills and Estates Attorney in North Carolina

At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, our North Carolina estate planning attorneys are standing by, ready to help you and your loved ones find the best solution for your needs. If you are a part of a long term cohabitation relationship and you have questions about estate planning, we can help. Contact us today for a confidential consultation. We provide estate planning services in Charlotte, Monroe, Mooresville, Kannapolis, Davidson, Matthews, Concord, Harrisburg, and throughout the region.