However, even though signatories to a registered domestic partnership might be afforded the same rights enjoyed by married couples, these are not extended to other cohabiting partners in long-term, committed relationships.

Estate Planning Complications for Unregistered Domestic Partners

Despite its liberal stance on registered domestic partnerships, California affords few protections to other cohabiting couples. Without an estate plan, unmarried partners are entitled to nothing in the event that one partner declares bankruptcy, dies, or becomes incapacitated.

For example, many cohabitating partners try to protect one another from insolvency by maintaining separate financial accounts. However, this can lead to other problems, both within the relationship and in the eyes of the law.

Consider that:

  • Separate accounts could engender communications difficulties
  • Separate assets will not necessarily be treated as truly separate in the event that one partner declares bankruptcy
  • Separate accounts can lead to administrative difficulties during probate, especially if the other partner has not explicitly been named the estate executor

How Estate Planning Benefits Unmarried Couples

Since California’s Probate Code presumes that most adults have the legal capacity to make critical estate planning decisions, a well-considered estate plan allows unmarried couples to care for one another by:

  • Declaring the other partner executor of their estate
  • Designating the other partner inheritance and property rights through a will or revocable living trust
  • Designing a financial plan that privileges the other partner through beneficiary designations
  • Delegating the other partner the financial or medical power of attorney 

With the right guidance, cohabiting couples can construct an estate plan that privileges their respective partners to nearly the same extent as their married counterparts.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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