When a married person passes away without a will or trust, California law will often pass a large portion of their estate to a surviving spouse. In most cases, the state’s probate courts assume that the decedent would want their partner to keep their house, as well as financial and other valuable assets. Estate planning for unmarried couples in Torrance Kavesh Minor & Otis

However, California doesn’t make the same assumption about unmarried couples. While some states treat common law relationships akin to marriage when it comes time to settle an estate, California does not.

Since probate courts are bound by rules and laws when they consider how to divide an estate, it’s possible a lack of planning could leave an unmarried partner empty-handed—even if they lived with the deceased for decades.

Estate Planning Essentials for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is as important for unmarried couples as it is for those who are married. If you want to ensure your partner is protected in case you pass away, your estate plan should ideally include the following essential items:

  • A will or trust
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Joint ownership arrangements
  • Guardianship arrangements
  • Durable power of attorney

While not every couple needs every item from the list, each tool enables you to protect your loved one from arduous probate proceedings.

How Estate Planning In California Can Protect Your Partner—and Yourself

When you’re unmarried, a good trust can let you pass on a house, stocks, or funds to your partner with minimal tax penalties. Certain kinds of trusts can also be altered when you’re still alive, enabling you to accommodate major life decisions such as marriage, separation, or new children.

Beneficiary designations and joint ownership arrangements also let you pass assets or real property to a partner outside of probate. However, all tools should be considered within the context of your estate plan, since some can override inheritance requests you’ve made in a will or trust.

Guardianship arrangements and durable power of attorney give your partner the power to make decisions you may be unable to make. If you’re ever hospitalized, granting your partner power of medical attorney allows them to advise health care professionals on the type of treatment that is in your best interest and reflects your personal values.

A Solid Plan Helps You Avoid California Probate

Most importantly, a trust, beneficiary designation, or simple will lets a probate court or estate executor know that you want your partner to inherit certain assets the state would normally accord to a spouse or close relative. If you don’t have an estate plan, California will default to its own legal processes, which may not recognize the important role your unmarried partner plays in your life.

Remember that if you want your unmarried partner to have a portion of your estate, you must create an estate plan. California state law will not protect the surviving partner in the same way it would protect a surviving spouse. An experienced estate planning attorney will consider the status of your estate and the types of assets you own and recommend a unique, custom-built plan to help you protect your partner. 

Do You Need To Speak With An Attorney About Estate Planning?

If you need to speak with an experienced estate planning lawyer please contact us online or call us directly at 800.756.5596 to first register for one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a special discount for our estate planning services should you decide to make a free appointment at the conclusion of the seminar and choose to proceed with us. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.

Trust & Estate Administration


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