Estate planning can benefit both traditional and nontraditional families as well as individuals. It enables people to determine their own care, the inheritance rights of their loved ones, and the management of their estates. Unmarried couples can establish important rights for each other through an estate plan, and a St. Charles estate planning attorney can help immensely. The benefits of estate planning documents are only useful if they are enforceable, and an attorney can assist you with this.

The Difference Between the Legal Rights of Married and Unmarried Couples

Spouses are given certain legal rights automatically, which apply if their spouse dies or is incapacitated in some way. This includes the right to inherit from their spouse and the right to make crucial decisions when their spouse cannot.

Couples may decide, for numerous reasons, that they don’t want to marry, but this does not negate their commitment to each other. One downside of remaining unmarried is the lack of certain rights that spouses are afforded. Fortunately, unmarried couples can manually create some of those rights. It’s important to understand the potential complications of remaining unmarried without establishing any of these rights:

Property and Benefits Right

Married couples have marital property, which, in Missouri, covers most property obtained since the couple was married. Unmarried couples do not have this property. The court cannot separate a couple’s property between them when they separate, and each spouse retains the assets they own. In some cases, the lack of marital property in a separation is one reason why couples do not marry.

Regardless, protecting the rights of your partner in the event of your death is crucial. Spouses can inherit a deceased spouse’s property and benefits, but an unmarried partner cannot without estate planning documents.

Probate Notice

Spouses have the right to be notified of probate court proceedings. Unmarried partners can either establish this right through an estate plan or create a more comprehensive estate plan that avoids probate court.

Medical Rights

Married couples have the right to visit their spouse in the hospital, be informed when their spouse is receiving medical care, and make medical and financial decisions for their spouse if they cannot. Unmarried couples do not have these rights automatically, so they must use multiple estate planning documents to establish them.

An estate plan can ensure that your wishes are followed and that you and your family are protected.

How Unmarried Couples Can Establish Rights With Estate Planning

There are many estate planning documents that manually create these rights, including:

  1. Will: This basic estate planning document can determine who inherits assets in your estate, and it can make your partner the primary beneficiary. A will also lets you make your partner the primary guardian of your children and name who you wish as the executor of your estate. Without a will, your estate will be distributed by the state’s intestate inheritance laws, and your partner will not inherit from this process.
  2. Beneficiary Designations: Certain assets can have beneficiary designations listed so that the account passes to the individual you want it to without going through probate court. You can leave these assets or accounts to your partner.
  3. Powers of Attorney: By creating powers of attorney documents and giving those powers to your partner, they can make financial, legal, and medical decisions for you if you are incapacitated. These documents can specify which powers they are provided with.
  4. Trusts: A trust, like a will, allows you to name the beneficiaries of your assets and estate. A trust also avoids the probate process, passing assets to your intended beneficiaries more quickly and privately. Unmarried couples may also wish to establish a joint trust together.
  5. Medical Directives: This document allows you to list your wishes for medical care, which your partner can follow when you provide them with healthcare powers of attorney.


Q: Is Estate Planning Less Important for Unmarried Couples?

A: No, estate planning is not less important for unmarried couples, and it is often more important for unmarried couples. If you are not currently married or do not plan to be married, you and your partner can create important legal powers for each other through an estate plan. This includes inheritance rights, the right to make medical and financial decisions, guardianship rights of children, and other rights.

These are automatically afforded to spouses, but unmarried couples can establish those rights with the right steps.

Q: What Is the Law for Unmarried Couples in Missouri?

A: Unmarried couples in Missouri do not have rights over property or inheritance simply by cohabitating, and there is no common law marriage in the state. However, unmarried couples do have specific rights if they have a child together and legally establish paternity. Both parents have equal parental rights and responsibilities for their children, regardless of whether they are married.

If parents separate, each parent has equal rights to custody of their children, but they do not have other automatic rights that married couples have, like property rights.

Q: What Are the Inheritance Rules in Missouri?

A: The inheritance rules in Missouri apply if an individual dies without a will, trust, or other similar estate plan in place. These laws mean that the deceased’s property is distributed to their surviving family members in the following order:

  1. A surviving spouse
  2. The deceased’s children or descendants
  3. The deceased’s parents, siblings, or their descendants
  4. The deceased’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, or their descendants
  5. The deceased’s great-grandparents or their descendants

There are more complicated requirements if the deceased has both a surviving spouse and surviving descendants.

Q: How Much Does Estate Planning Cost in Missouri?

A: Estate planning in Missouri ranges in cost, including filing fees for the documents and the fees for an attorney if you work with one. The cost of an estate planning attorney depends on a variety of factors, although attorneys may charge a flat fee for certain services. Rates can also be much higher, depending on the specific attorney. Although it is more costly to work with an attorney, it is incredibly beneficial, and your estate plan is more likely to uphold your wishes and be enforceable.

Establishing the Rights of Your Family and Loved Ones

Many families can benefit from creating a comprehensive estate plan. Talk with the team at Stange Law Firm to learn how we can help you establish important rights for your loved ones.