Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples in California

Attorney Image By: James Filippi

Unmarried couples often encounter unique challenges and misconceptions when it comes to estate planning. The law generally defaults in favor of married couples or biological family members. Thus, unmarried couples must take affirmative action to ensure they provide, protect, and plan for each other’s peace of mind.

It’s important to understand that unmarried couples do not have the same automatic inheritance rights as married couples. If one partner passes away without a will, their possessions can be given to their closest blood relatives, regardless of their personal relationship, possibly leaving the surviving partner with nothing.

A comprehensive estate plan is a great tool for unmarried couples to ensure their assets are allocated in accordance with their wishes. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure these documents clearly outline which assets go to the surviving partner. In the absence of a will or trust, California laws will allocate assets to blood relatives and exclude those in non-traditional relationships.

You may want to specifically name your spouse as the beneficiary of assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Updating these designations is essential because they typically take precedence over any directives in a will or trust. Before determining whether or not pay-on-death designations are best for your circumstances, you should consider the pros and cons of each and discuss the best options with an estate planning attorney.

When properties, such as real estate or bank accounts, are held as joint tenants with survivorship rights, the surviving partner inherits the asset immediately upon the death of the other partner. This arrangement avoids probate, which can be a long and expensive legal process. However, there are drawbacks to joint ownership options, including tax and liability exposures, which you should consider with an expert and knowledgeable estate planning attorney before determining if they are appropriate for your circumstances.

It’s a misconception that partners can make medical or financial decisions for each other in times of crisis. As part of your comprehensive estate plan, establish a power of attorney so that your partner can handle matters on your behalf in the event that you become incapacitated.

This document specifies your medical preferences in the event that you are unable to communicate them and appoints a medical decision-maker. This guarantees that your partner can support and understand your wishes if you are not married.

A cohabitation agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement and outlines the financial rights and responsibilities of each partner. It can safeguard both parties by clarifying matters like asset division, property rights, and financial responsibilities.

Even though estate planning may appear complicated for unmarried couples, it is essential because California laws do not favor nonbiological and nonmarital relationships. Understand your legal rights and make deliberate decisions to protect your life and future. Our experienced estate planning attorneys in Rocklin, California, can guide you through the process and ensure that you and your partner are taken care of, regardless of what the future holds.

Filippi Law Firm, P.C., provides legal services in estate planning, probate, trust administration, and trust litigation in the greater Sacramento area and Placer County, with a focus in Rocklin, Roseville, Lincoln, and Granite Bay. Give us a call at (916) 333-7910 or fill out the contact form to get in touch with our office. Consultations are free, and they can be done over the phone, via Zoom, or in person at our office in Rocklin.

Satisfied Client Stories


Was going in for heart surgery in a week and needed an Estate Plan ASAP! Jennifer and the staff at Filippi Law Firm managed to put together my plan, which was rather extensive, within that time frame. This gave me the peace of mind I needed in case the worst happened. Luckily it wasn’t need but I now have it in case I ever do. Great staff and wonderful to work with. Wouldn’t go to anyone else. Would give 10 stars if I could.

Matthew S. | Antelope, CA

We recently relocated from the Bay Area and wanted to update our over-25-year-old Living Trust. He did an outstanding job. He also gave us some contacts in Texas to update some property we own there.

Elmer Y. | Rocklin, CA

Patient and caring and trustworthy are the best words to describe the service my husband and I received. We highly recommend this law firm.

Koren C. | California

I highly recommend Filippi Law Firm. Katia, is extremely genuine very helpful. Great communication from beginning to end. We will work with this law office again. Thanks, team!

Robin G. | California

Loved working with the team here for legal services. Responsive and professional and kept me updated through the process. Great all-around experience!

Matthew J. | California

Always there for you !! Always answering all your questions!! The experience was easy , fast and affordable!! There team is amazing!!!

Michelle W. | Vacaville, CA

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