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When Cohabitating Goes Wrong

This blog discusses cohabitating in the context of two adult individuals who live together but who are not married. They can be a partner, significant other, or simply friends. We will not be discussing the pitfalls of owning property jointly or other obvious pitfalls of cohabitation but rather we will be discussing the downfalls of not having estate planning documents to allow that significant person in your life to help make decisions.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, you must be married in order to have certain rights under the context of the healthcare statute. It also requires marriage to have rights under the intestate succession statute in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, many adult individuals will decide later in life to never get married for one reason or another.

This is certainly a personal choice and preference, but if you are not legally married you will not have the ability to go into a hospital to make a decision for your partner or significant other. Without having a Healthcare Power of Attorney in place that appoints an agent your partner or significant other would have no ability or authority to make decisions for you. Instead family members, who may or may not have been involved in your life, for years would be able to come in and make those decisions.  

Often times if there is a guardianship proceeding that has to occur (because you don’t have a Power of Attorney or Health Care Directive in place), the Court will often defer to family members rather than individuals who are cohabitating with the alleged incapacitated individual. While this is certainly not set in stone, my experience personally is that the Court will defer to family and blood rather than a significant other relationship in appointing a guardian.

It is certainly a person’s choice to not get married and not to take the next step for one reason or the other, but we highly encourage those individuals to make sure that they have, at a minimum, in place a financial Power of Attorney and Health Care Directive and strongly suggest having a Last Will and Testament as Well so that your wishes are known and can be carried out.  This will at least save some heartache in the end.

If you would like to learn more about avoiding estate complications, please give us a call at 717-845-5390.

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