Austin attorney Brad Wiewel of the Wiewel Law Firm (http://www.texastrustlaw.com/) recently blogged about the important issue of money issues and estate planning for unmarried couples, which follows:
“Whether a couple is married or unmarried, there are invariably many money issues for them to consider – and some valuable financial moves to make. Here are some tips for those in the not-married camp. A bad way to manage your joint and separate finances is to just wing it. Do so, and one or both of you can end up feeling resentful because of various irritations or an overall sense of unfairness – such as if one party is spending much more than the other thinks is best.
“The Motley Fool says to talk things out and have a plan when it comes to financial issues in“Financial Moves Unmarried Couples Should Consider Making.” In addition, the author suggests that couples discuss which income and assets are joint and which, if any, are to remain separate.
“Calculate how much money is coming into the household and how you both want it to be spent. Create a budget and a plan for keeping it. Plan for retirement savings and other savings goals, like a down payment on a house or college expenses. Most of all, live below your means. This is especially true if one or both partners have substantial debt. Make it a priority to get that paid off.
“Unmarried couples don’t have some of the automatic protections married couples have, especially as far as estate planning. Most state laws give a spouse the right to inherit automatically. However, an unmarried partner’s rights are many times almost nonexistent. That shows how important it is to set up your finances deliberately if you want to leave money to a partner while you’re not married.
“Here are two strategies to achieve that goal.
“Joint Tenancy. Holding property in joint tenancy accounts with rights of survivorship serves to transfer ownership directly to the surviving partner after death without probate, and without a will or regard to the laws of intestate succession. Beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and life insurance policies can also do the same thing.
“Powers of Attorney. Make sure to give each other powers of attorney for both financial decisions and healthcare choices on each other’s behalf.
“Too many people just make assumptions about what their partner would want—or they ignore tough decisions. Doing this only makes it harder if the worst does come to pass. Without these tough conversations, you might find yourself unsure what to do if your partner is temporarily or permanently incapacitated, or if they pass away.
“Talk openly about your wishes, and then make plans to put them in place with the help of a qualified estate planning attorney.