Domestic Partners Should Not Be Legal Strangers
"Domestic Partners" is a term used today to refer to people who live together but who are not married. Today, many times, older adults like to live with a brother or a sister, and they would be considered Domestic Partners. Domestic Partners also include same sex couples or heterosexual couples who are not married. Domestic Partners are about as common as married couples.
Domestic Partners usually are very close to each other, know the wishes of the other and are the best providers. However, under the law, they are legal strangers, without any rights regarding the other. This can cause a variety of problems.
For example, an elderly woman may feel that her sister with whom she lives is a better person to handle her finances, at a time of need, than her children. A same sex couple that buys a house together are not bound by the marriage dissolution laws and so have no specific legal guidance on how to hold their property, whether separate or jointly. An unmarried couple also has no rights to make health care decisions for the other if the other becomes ill and unable to commuincate health care desires.
However, Domestic Partners can have legal rights if they prepare appropriate legal documents. For example, a healthcare power of attorney allows Domestic Partners to designate each other as the health care agent. Then if one is too ill to express consent for medicine or surgery, the other can act without getting approval from family members.
The health care power of attorney can also include powers for mental health care, in case one suffers from dementia or mental illness. Each Domestic Partner should list an alternate in case something happens to both of them.
Agents can be appointed for finances under a Durable Power of Attorney. The financial agent can access bank accounts and make withdrawls from IRAs for the benefit of the other. The Durable Power of Attorney allows the Domestic Partner to collect debts, run a business or contract for services, such as in home care assistance. It is "durable" because it remains effective even if the one who created it becomes incapacitated.
The Domestic Partners can execute mutual Wills or a joint Revocable Living Trust. These set out the desires for how assets should be used after death. That is, whether the surviving Domestic Partner should have all of the remaining assets or whether some should be saved for other family members.
Domestic Partners can enter into a cohabitation agreements to decide if they want to share equity in the house or how to share expenses. Some Domestic Partners prefer to have only one of them pay the mortgage and own the home, even if the other contributes to utilities and food. Often, Domestic Partners want to give each assurances of support in the future, especially if they have made job or retirement decisions in order to assist the other Domestic Partner. Domestic Partnership or Cohabitation Agreements can require arbitration of disputes and avoid costly litigation in an area where the law is not too developed.
Domestic Partners are important to each other. Therefore, they should pursue the legal documentations that will protect each other.