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


We found the Filippi Law Firm in Yelp and we were so lucky to have found them. Both Jen and Jim were kind and patient, explaining the process and addressing our concerns with a cost we felt was appropriate for the quality of the work. At all times we felt supported in the process and it could not have gone better. If you need this kind of work do yourself a favor and reach out to these folks for help. You won’t regret it.

Ron G. | Sacramento, CA

Jenn helped us with a trust account for my parents. She is very polite and thorough at doing her job she answered every question. My parents had and made them feel very welcome there. If we ever had to use the office again, we would .

Mark L. | California

My experience was perfect.

Arnett D. | Fairfield, CA

Great firm!

Rod S. | California

Very detailed in redoing our trust. I would definitely refer my friends to them.

Peg H. | Citrus Heights, CA

I was referred to Filippi Law Firm from another client, who was very happy with their services. I very thankful for the guidance given, for my “Trustee Role” for my Uncle’s Estate. It went smoothly, from start to finish.

Lillian G. | Lincoln, CA

Contact Us