As important as advance directives such as health care proxies (HCP's), durable powers of attorney (DPOA's) and wills are for married couples, their importance for unmarried couples is immeasurable.
Many people these days participate in domestic partnerships without becoming married. Without marriage the right to remain involved with each other when one party becomes ill or dies is virtually nonexistent. Many of us have read or seen stories about unrelated domestic partners who are prevented from making medical decisions for unconscious loved ones, inheriting property even though the intent to benefit the other on death was clear and even blocked from attending the partner's funeral. Certain basic documents can go a long way towards alleviating such unintended results.
Health care proxies are recognized in many states, including Massachusetts. An executed HCP provides for a designated health care agent to make all medical decisions for an incompetent or unconscious individual. It has the force of law and can override the decisions of family members.
Durable powers of attorney allow the "attorney in fact" designated by the principal to carry out any financial transactions specified in the power, which often includes a general power to do any act the principal could have done. The use of a DPOA can put the desired person in charge of one's finances without regard to familial relationships. A DPOA can also provide for the designation of a conservator and guardian should either become necessary. DPOA's expire on the death of the principal.
A will is essential to carry out the will maker's intentions upon death as to the distribution of his or her estate, from large sums of money to the smallest keepsakes, from real estate to the car. Without a will all of the decedent's property is distributed according to law and no unrelated person may inherit under the statute. (Adopted children are considered the equivalent of naturally born children under most inheritance statutes.)
Certain other provisions should be considered either as part of the will or in a separate document. For instance, funeral arrangements can be specified and a designee named to be in charge of and allowed to attend the ceremony.
In short no committed couple, married or not, should not be without these basic documents.
If you have a question about your relationship rights, please contact the Worcester MA Law firm of Lian Zarrow. We will be happy to assist you.