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Caring for your unmarried partner with an estate plan

Maybe you and your partner are living the Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell or Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham life: You're longtime loves who simply decided never to marry.

That lifestyle works for couples everywhere, and even if they don't need a marriage certificate, they do need one legal document: an estate plan.

We can presume that if you are part of an unmarried couple, you'd like your assets to go to the other person at your death. Assets held in joint tenancy - such as your home - will transfer to your partner automatically, but what about property titled in your own name, such as your car or home?

Unless you are married or have completed domestic partner registration through the California secretary of state, there will be no guaranteed passing of assets to your partner. In fact, if you die without a will, under the laws of intestate succession, your assets will go to your children. If you have no kids, the succession becomes murkier and tougher.

What if you owned your home before meeting your partner and want them to be able to stay in it after your death? If the home is titled solely in your name, your partner has no interest in the home and could be forced to move.

An estate plan can be set up to give unmarried partners some guarantees. Options include wills or a trust that details how to distribute joint and separate assets. Or, you can create a life estate to the home in your will to allow your partner to stay in it for a set number of years or until death before ownership goes to the person of your choosing.

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