One of the questions that people often have about estate planning involves what would happen to their assets if they passed away without having executed their last will or some other vehicle of asset transfer. There is a common misconception that has made the rounds suggesting that the state will absorb your assets if you were to die intestate or without a will.
As estate planning attorneys we certainly want people to take the time to formulate a well-thought-out, comprehensive estate plan but the reality is that if you fail to do this your assets would not go into the coffers of the state. This having been stressed there are legal rules of descent that determine the family member or members who would assume ownership of your property if you died intestate. If you are married, your surviving spouse would be the individual that your personal property would pass to as a matter of course.
So as important as estate planning is, if you’re married at least you are protected by the rules of descent if you procrastinate too long and pass away without a proper estate plan in place. On the other hand, if you are in a long-term committed relationship but not legally married, you have no such legal protection, so people who are in this situation really need to take estate planning extremely seriously.
In addition to making sure that you have stated your wishes with regard to the distribution of your assets after your death, you will also want to consider the health care component of your estate plan. If you were to become incapacitated at some point in time and unable to make medical decisions your partner would not be the individual that the doctors would turn to if you’re not legally married. For this reason advance health care directives are also an important piece of the puzzle if you want your partner to be the person who would make these sensitive decisions for you.