As an unmarried couple, planning for your future care is critically important. Because many of the Federal benefits and safeguards granted to married couples may be unavailable to you, you must be proactive and fully prepared to ensure that your wishes will be fulfilled, your assets will be preserved, your needs will be met, and your partner will be protected.
Whether you are in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, the time to begin planning is now. You certainly don’t want to wait until an accident or illness occurs to learn that your partner cannot be by your side or make critical care decisions on your behalf because he or she is not legally able to do so.
Let’s take a look at some critical care issues and how you can prepare for them.
What would happen if you or your partner were to experience a debilitating illness or become incapable of managing your own affairs? Such a situation could occur gradually, due to a progressive medical condition, or suddenly, due to an unexpected accident or illness. If such an event were to happen, who would make legal, financial, and health care decisions and on what authority?
Fortunately, advance directives—legal instructions that express your wishes regarding financial and health care decisions in the event that you become incapacitated—can help with such contingencies. A durable power of attorney grants authority to another person to make legal and financial decisions on your behalf, even in the event of mental incapacity. The powers granted can be broad or limited in scope. Your designated power of attorney can assist you with your personal finances, insurance policies, government benefits, estate plans, retirement plans, and business interests.
Advance directives can also include health care decisions. A living will generally allows you to state your preferences prior to incompetence regarding the giving or withholding of life-sustaining medical treatment. In most states, you must have a “terminal condition,” be in a “persistent vegetative state,” or be “permanently unconscious” before life-support can be withdrawn. It’s important to note, however, that the definition of these terms and the medical conditions covered may vary from state to state. A health care proxy allows you to appoint an agent to make health care decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacity. These medical decisions are not limited to those regarding artificial life-support.
Advance directives are generally inexpensive and easy to implement. Without such documents, court intervention—involving a great deal of time, expense, and stress—may be necessary to carry out your legal, financial, and health care wishes. Care providers and financial institutions may be hesitant to heed the decisions of an agent who is not legally related, especially if family members raise objections. Therefore, it is prudent to have legal documentation of your intentions.
Long-term care (LTC) is another critical care issue for unmarried couples. While LTC services range from custodial care in the home to medical care in a nursing home, the majority of LTC services provide assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing, bathing, eating, transferring, and toileting. LTC insurance can increase your options for care and preserve your income and assets. Perhaps more importantly, it can allay your fears and bring you and your partner peace of mind.
Most people don’t think about advance directives or LTC until such issues become a reality for them. This is why planning is so important. So, take the time to talk with your partner. Plan for your future and get your affairs in order before the need arises. Then, you and your loved one will be there for one another precisely when you need each other most.