Estate planning for unmarried couples – What you need to know

When you think about who needs estate planning, most people think of married couples or wealthy individuals and families – but the truth is that it is even more important for unmarried couples. There’s a growing number of American couples (around 5.5 million currently) who are choosing not to marry for various reasons and choosing to cohabitate instead. While this is a valid choice, it does result in some legal complications, loss of rights and loss of benefits that your estate planning attorney can assist you with.

Common law marriage in New Jersey 

The State of New Jersey used to recognize couples who had lived together in a long-term relationship acting as husband and wife as equal in rights to a legally married couple. However, this was abolished in 1939 and no longer applies. This has a significant impact on the rights of unmarried couples, including accessing worker’s compensation or insurance benefits, tax benefits and inheritance rights.

Important questions to discuss with your NJ estate planning attorney 

  • Medical care: Married couples have the right to make medical decisions on the behalf of their partners if they are unable to do so themselves, but unmarried couples do not automatically have this right. Instead, this authority will likely go to a close blood relative. Your attorney can assist you by creating individual Medical Power of Attorney documents in which you may each authorize your partner to make these decisions. You will also be able to specify your individual treatment preferences, for example, if you do or do not want advanced life saving measures, blood transfusions, etc.
  • Financial care: Similarly, unmarried couples have no authority to make financial decisions on each other’s behalf if either of them are no longer able to do so themselves. A Financial Power of Attorney will give your partner this authority to act, as well as contain directives from you on how to manage your financial affairs. Without this document, your partner will face a lengthy and expensive court procedure that may still result in authority being granted to a blood relative.
  • Last Will and Testament: Without a legal marriage, your rights to inherit from your partner are greatly diminished. These rights can be supported by a civil union or registration as domestic partners in NJ, or even by a written contract, but the best way to protect these rights is through a Last Will and Testament and cohabitation agreements. Without them, some or all assets in your partner’s name will pass to the State or to blood relatives according to NJ law. This can include your home, assets, insurance pay outs, savings and much more.

Speak to a qualified NJ attorney today for affordable, comprehensive estate planning 

If you would like to ensure that you, your partner and family are properly protected in terms of estate planning, Frank R. Campisano can assist you each step of the way. Whether you want to create a Last Will and Testament or are interested in creating more complex estate planning documents such as trusts and Power of Attorney documents, he can ensure that the right legal documentation is developed in order to meet your specific wishes.

For peace of mind estate planning or advice on creating your Last Will and Testament, please contact Frank R. Campisano or visit our website today at

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