Wills are important for all people in Ohio, especially unmarried couples
Fewer couples are getting married — according to U.S. Census data — and this fact is no different in Ohio from anywhere else in the nation. With all the media coverage of same-sex marriage rights, many people know that married couples often enjoy privileges that unmarried couples do not share, such as:
- Less expensive healthcare insurance
- Inheritance and automatic succession rights
- Certain tax exemptions and other tax benefits
- Decision-making rights during emergencies
- Retirement and social security account benefits
Previously, unmarried couples in Ohio attained the same rights as married couples if they lived together as a married couple and met certain state-mandated criteria. However, after October 10, 1991, common law marriage was abolished in Ohio and couples who began living together after that date were no longer afforded the same benefits as they previously enjoyed. Now, unmarried couples must rely on estate planning documents to preserve many of their rights.
Why unmarried couples should have wills
Unless an unmarried couple has a will, upon a partner’s death, the survivor of them may have no rights of inheritance to his or her partner’s estate. Intestate — dying without a last will and testament — laws in Ohio give an unmarried person’s estate to his or her legal next of kin, i.e. children, parents, siblings, etc. Even if the couple had been living together for the past 20 years, the surviving partner may be left with nothing.
Mutual wills can legally establish who inherits what and when. A will can be general and provide all you have at your death to your significant other, or it can contain special bequests, giving specific items to certain people or entities — such as charities — at specific times.
Other important documentation
Providing for non-biological children is also an issue that estate planning documentation can remedy for unmarried partners. Couples who bring children from prior relationships into the shared home, or same-sex couples who have a child who is not the biological offspring of one partner, can both run into difficulties if the biological parent dies or is incapacitated. Horror stories abound of loved ones who are not allowed access to children they raised because they lack the legal paperwork verifying their parental rights.
An equally distressing situation happens when one partner suffers from a serious illness or accident and his or her life partner is not allowed to visit or make medical decisions on his or her behalf. Living wills, advanced directives and health care powers of attorney easily put these concerns to rest but must be in place prior to a life-changing incident.
Consult an Ohio attorney
Whether or not you are married, an experienced estate planning lawyer can help you plan for your future and the future of your loved ones. Consult a knowledgeable Ohio attorney for all your estate planning needs and questions.