Legal rights: married couples vs. unmarried couples
- Entitlement to a share of each other’s estate: Spouses are entitled to each other’s finances, property, and assets when one of them dies. Unless specified otherwise, they’re typically entitled to the entirety of the estate.
- Exemption from testifying against your spouse in court: There are exceptions to this right, like when a spouse chooses to testify against their spouse or when a spouse commits a certain crime (such as a crime against their spouse or their children).
- Being named next of kin: This grants you the power to make health care decisions for your spouse if they are incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves.
- Being named a beneficiary: Various health plans, retirement plans, and insurance policies sometimes allow you to collect the benefits when your spouse passes away before you.
- Tax benefits: You may not have to pay tax on the portion of your spouse’s estate that is transferred to you after they’ve passed away.
- Entitlements after a divorce: Spouses are entitled to a fair division of property, assets, and debts if their relationship ends.
- Entitlement to alimony: A spouse may be entitled to spousal support payments after a divorce.
- Tax benefits
- Visitation privileges (such as when your spouse is hospitalized or imprisoned)
- Being named a beneficiary in various health plans, insurance policies, and employee benefits
Granting your partner authority to make decisions on your behalf
Without these documents or proof that you and your partner are legally married, professional organizations (such as insurance companies, hospitals, banks, etc.) may not recognize your partner’s authority to act on your behalf. In this case, they may delegate someone else to represent you; this person may not know you well enough to act according to your wishes.
Protecting yourself if the relationship ends
Leaving your partner a portion of your estate
You don’t have to be legally married to be legally protected
- Use a Power of Attorney to grant your partner the authority to act on your behalf for a wide range of legal and financial tasks.
- Use a Health Care Directive to give your partner the authority to make important decisions for your health care when you can’t.
- Make a Cohabitation Agreement to establish separate and shared property while you live together.
- Create a Last Will and Testament to ensure your partner receives a portion of your estate after you pass away.