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  • Cindy Wysocki

Estate Planning for Cohabitating Individuals

Cohabitating couples may face unique challenges, especially if they are not legally married. Estate planning for cohabitating individuals in Washington state is important to ensure that your assets and healthcare decisions are managed according to your wishes in the event of incapacity or death. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Wills and Trusts: Regardless of your marital status, it's essential to have a will or trust in place. A will allows you to specify how your assets should be distributed upon your death. If you die without a will (intestate), Washington state laws will dictate how your property is distributed, which may not align with your wishes, especially if you are not legally married to your partner.

  2. Durable Power of Attorney: Create a durable power of attorney for financial matters. This allows your partner or another trusted individual to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. Without being legally married, your partner may face challenges in handling your affairs without this document in place.

  3. Advance Healthcare Directive: Designate a healthcare proxy and create an advance healthcare directive (also known as a living will) that outlines your medical treatment preferences in case you cannot communicate your wishes. Unfortunately, without being a legal spouse, your partner may have very little say over your healthcare directives if they’re not spelled out in a legal document, even if you’ve expressed them to your partner many times before.

  4. HIPAA Authorization: Sign a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization form, which grants your partner access to your medical records and healthcare information.

  5. Domestic Partnership Agreement: If you are not legally married but wish to clarify property and financial rights, consider creating a domestic partnership agreement. This contract can address issues like property division and support in the event of a breakup.

  6. Beneficiary Designations: Review and update beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other assets. These designations take precedence over wills or trusts, so ensure they reflect your current wishes.

  7. Co-Ownership of Assets: If you co-own property or other assets, consider how you want these assets to be managed in the event of one partner's death or incapacitation. Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship and tenancy in common are common forms of property ownership in Washington state, each with different implications. Our office can help you determine which type of co-ownership is best for you and your partner.

  8. Guardianship for Minor Children: If you have minor children and are cohabitating, it's crucial to designate a guardian for them in your will.

  9. Review and Update: Periodically review and update your estate plan to ensure it aligns with your current circumstances and wishes, especially if your relationship status changes.

  10. Legal Advice: Give us a call! We can help you navigate the complexities of the law and ensure your estate plan is legally sound and comprehensive.

Keep in mind that estate planning laws can change, and individual circumstances vary, so it's essential to consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable about Washington state laws to create an estate plan tailored to your specific needs and goals.

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