More and more Texas couples are choosing to live together without getting married, especially if one or both partners are over the age of 50. This choice has many reasons, but according to several studies, the most prevalent reason is the memory of a difficult divorce and a wish to avoid repeating this experience. Living together has an appeal for many people who want to emphasize the emotional connection and avoid the restrictive formalities of marriage. However, living together has a number of legal risks that should be explored before beginning co-habitation.
Perhaps, the most important risk is the possibility of one partner suffering a debilitating illness or injury. In a marriage, the healthy spouse automatically has legal authority to make medical and financial decisions, but if the couple is not married, the healthy spouse has no legal right to participate in the partner’s health care or financial management. This awkward problem can be avoided by both parties executing a living will and a health care power of attorney. By executing these documents, both partners can ensure that their affairs will be managed by the other partner. The two partners can also ensure that their financial affairs will be managed by the other partner by executing a financial power of attorney.
The other major problem for unmarried couples is the disposition of assets when one member of the partnership dies. A surviving spouse in Texas automatically receives one-half of the other spouse’s assets; this share can be altered by a valid will. If one member of an unmarried couple dies with no will, the other partner has no right to share in the decedent’s assets. The only way to avoid this problem is to execute a valid will that names the partner as a beneficiary.
Unmarried couples may face other problems, such as the right to occupy the couple’s residence if one partner should die without a will. Disposal of interests in life insurance policies and retirement plans can pose similar problems. This is why creating estate planning documents is so important.