Estate planning may seem like something you do not have to worry about until you are older or wealthier. However, estate plans are necessary for every stage of life to guarantee the safety of your health and assets should you become incapacitated or pass on, either of which can happen at any time.

A will and other legal documents are even more important if you are in a long-term, committed relationship with someone but not married. The law favors surviving spouses, granting them certain privileges in the absence of estate plans or in a family dispute. When you are unmarried, you and your partner do not receive the same legal protection. Therefore, it is imperative that you draft estate plans to ensure your property will go where you want it to go and that the people you want in control will be.

Secure your health and assets

Normally, a death with no will (intestate) would result in the spouse receiving all or most of the inheritance depending on the circumstances. In the event of incapacitation, the spouse would be the first choice in becoming responsible for medical and/or financial decisions. These rules do not apply to unmarried couples. You must explicitly name in your estate planning documents your partner as a beneficiary and an agent (power of attorney). Of course, you also have the option of asking someone else to fulfill the legal roles, if you wish. 

Protect your partner

Remember to include your partner in all accounts, not just your will. For example, you can add him or her as a beneficiary of some retirement benefits. The laws and options available for inheritance are different for a nonspouse, so be sure to know the areas in which your partner has no rights so you can provide security through other means.

Also, having clear instructions reduces the chances of family contesting your will. Telling them upfront about your decisions can also prevent disputes by allowing you to work out issues now.