When two people get married, a number of legal relationships, property rights, and tax advantages are created between them automatically. When two people live together outside of marriage, none of this happens automatically, and they must create their own legal relationships and protections. For estate planning purposes, couples who are not planning to get married have to be careful to ensure that they have a valid Pennsylvania Will in place providing each other all assets that they would like their partners to receive should one pass away unexpectedly. This way, their estate will be distributed based on their Will and not via the PA intestacy laws. Unmarried couples need the assistance of a Pennsylvania Estate Planning Attorney.
What are the Requirements to Obtain a Will in Northwestern PA?
In order to obtain a Will in northwestern, PA, the testator of a Will must be at least eighteen years old and of “sound mind,” in other words, be aware of what they are doing when making the Will. A Will in Pennsylvania must be signed at its end. In some cases, another person can sign for the Testator in his/her presence but it must be in writing to be validated. In Pennsylvania, it is not a requirement that a Will be witnessed, however, some county’s require two witnesses at the time of probate, or when the Will is being administered after the testator’s death. Damon C. Hopkins, estate planning attorney, will draft a Will according to your specifications, ensuring that your final Will reflects all of your personal wishes as to the distribution of your estate. He can also draft other important legal documents on clients’ behalf, such as a Pennsylvania Power of Attorney, a Living Will, etc.
List of Forums Unmarried Couples Need to Plan for in PA
At Damon Hopkins Law, based in Erie, PA, we provide estate planning services to unmarried couples in Pennsylvania. We advise clients on issues such as the following:
- Writing Wills, Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, Trusts & Medical Directives
- Designate Beneficiaries for Bank and Other Accounts | Own Assets Together
- Domestic partnership agreements
- Estate and inheritance tax planning
Writing Wills/Living Wills, Powers of Attorney, Trusts & Medical Directives
Creating Wills is crucial in regards to keeping all assets in the family. If one dies without a Will in Pennsylvania and he/she is not married, their assets will pass to blood relatives, not their partner. If children are involved, this is another huge reason for writing a Will. If just one partner is a legal parent and dies, the other partner would have been named as the guardian on the Will in order to grant the partner guardianship. Often times, people write a letter alongside the Will to explain to the court why it’s important for the partner to be the children’s guardian. However, if there’s another legal parent in the picture, that person would probably take over raising the children. This is why Wills are essential for unmarried couples, and making sure everything is filed correctly, too. You can also leave assets to each other with a living trust; the trust performs the same function as a Will but lets the surviving partner avoid the hassle and expense of probate. It is often advisable for unmarried couples to use trusts to achieve their estate planning goals because trusts are less susceptible to legal challenges by other parties. Contact estate attorney Hopkins to get a detailed Will drafted the way you want it, correctly the first time.
Using Powers of Attorney for finances gives unmarried couples authority over one another’s assets. Any power of attorney that a partner gives the other should be carefully worded to achieve all of your goals while avoiding potential legal disputes. This can be a big benefit if either partner is ever unexpectedly struck by illness or injury. Needing quick access to a partner’s checking account to pay the mortgage, for example, is something that can be done with a POA. Without a POA for finances, partners would have to go to court and prove that they should have control over his/her assets. Making Powers of Attorney for health care situations gives each other the authority to make medical decisions if one partner is ever unable to make them on their own. Along with the POA, knowledgeable estate attorneys, like Damon C. Hopkins recommends people to make medical directives. With a medical directive, partners can make any decisions about medical care in the event of a partner’s incapacity.
Designate Beneficiaries for Accounts | Conjoin Assets
Unmarried couples need to pay careful attention to the beneficiary designations on their life insurance policies and employee benefit plans. Another way to make sure that neither partner is left out in the cold after the other dies are to own big-ticket items, such as houses and cars, together in joint tenancy with right of survivorship. However, partners may not want to share ownership of all assets for lots of different reasons. Another thing to keep in mind is retirement accounts can’t be shared either. Sharing each other’s assets allows the partner of the deceased to automatically own 100% of the property. To do this, both names on the asset’s official title document; for example, a car’s certificate of title or a deed to real property. It’s easy and it doesn’t cost anything. Changes can be made by filling out and sending in another form. Learn more about beneficiary designations for different kinds of assets by calling Attorney Hopkins and setting up a consultation today!
Contracting Domestic Partnership Agreements | Prenuptial Agreements
Comparable to a prenuptial agreement, a domestic partnership agreement can be used to formalize the terms of a relationship. A Domestic Partnership Agreement is especially important for same-sex couples and unmarried couples. Opposite-sex couples planning to enter into marriage have long had the opportunity to create a Prenuptial Agreement, whereas unmarried couples don’t have to consider that option right away. A Prenuptial Agreement usually is for preserving the nature of property in the event that the marriage ends, and importantly, provide protection for dependents such as children. In every practical sense, a Domestic Partnership Agreement works much like a Prenuptial Agreement does for married couples who are planning to marry. Such an agreement can serve to clarify the financial terms of the relationship and the disposition of areas of concern, such as joint property ownership and shared responsibilities. With this in mind, those planning to enter into a registered domestic partnership should consider creating a Domestic Partnership Agreement.
Estate & Inheritance Tax Planning
Unmarried couples often need to take special tax planning measures because they do not have access to tax benefits for married couples. The differentiator between an estate tax and an inheritance tax is who pays it. While the terms “estate tax” and “inheritance tax” are often used interchangeably when referring to taxes collected when someone dies, these two terms refer to two completely different types of death taxes. An inheritance tax is calculated based on who receives a deceased person’s property. Beneficiaries are liable for paying this tax, although a Will sometimes provides that the estate should pick up this tab as well. Transfers to surviving spouses are completely exempt from the inheritance tax in all six states that collect it, but property passing to children and grandchildren is subject to the state inheritance tax in Nebraska and Pennsylvania. More collateral heirs, such as brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, or friends, must typically pay this tax.
Damon C. Hopkins can Help with all Estate Planning & Administration Services in Erie, PA
It’s never too early to begin planning for the future for unmarried couples. Damon Hopkins Law is a well-trusted estate and trust attorney that provides estate planning and drafting services for all sizes, types, and complexities of estates. Attorney Hopkins carefully considers all clients’ goals and family situations. Attorney Hopkins works closely with accountants, brokers, bankers, and other financial service providers to develop comprehensive estate plans that accomplish our clients’ objectives. By trusting Attorney Hopkins for guidance through the Living Will or power of attorney process, you will feel confident in the decisions you’re making and receive the assurance that these important documents are completed properly. Call for a free consultation today!