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Wills for unmarried couples

Couples who are in an unmarried relationship need to engage in additional estate planning and assure they have a valid will to assure that their assets and property are distributed after their death as they intended. Otherwise, the property may go to a family member or other person challenging a will.

Individuals may leave their property to anyone they desire. If a person dies without an official or valid will, however, another family member such as a brother or sister may believe they have a reasonable chance of having a will declared invalid and file a will contest. If an unrevoked will was never entered, the partner dies without having a will.

Couples may take steps to help prevent this litigation. A will must follow laws on being correctly executed by being properly signed, notarized and witnessed. Failure to comply with these steps can lead to a will being declared invalid.

A partner may also consider giving their sibling a specific cash bequest under the condition that this gift is forfeited if the sibling contests the will or challenges probate. The bequest should be sufficiently generous, in comparison to the rest of the estate, to sufficiently deter the sibling from chancing forfeiture in an unsuccessful challenge.

A partner should also revise a will every six months or other periodic time to give a little more money to their family member in each will. If the partner dies and the family member successfully challenge the latest will, earlier and less generous wills will apply and provide the sibling with progressively less money or assets.

Both members of the couple should not participate in this process. A partner should not find or recommend an attorney for their partner, speak to their couple's lawyer or email or write to that attorney. If possible, the partner should not take their partner to the attorney's office. Any of thee actions may be viewed as undue influence in a legal proceeding.

Finally, self-drafted, boilerplate or general wills from the internet have a greater chance of being declared invalid. A qualified attorney can help prepare wills that properly designate property distribution and provide other estate planning options.

Source: The Houston Chronicle, "Partner's brother could swoop in and claim estate if there's no will," By Ronald Lipman, Jan. 20, 2018

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