Many people do not get around to estate planning until later in life. Nontraditional couples may not get around to it all, perhaps thinking they do not qualify.

The truth is that estate planning is essential for nontraditional families of all kinds, and it is a responsibility couples should act on sooner than later.

Who needs it

The laws pertaining to same-sex couples continue to evolve, but many of those laws will also apply to other nontraditional couples and their families. You and your same-sex spouse may have a child. You and your partner may live together as an unmarried couple. The two of you may be grandparents, aunts or uncles of a child you are raising. Yours may be a split family. The point is, various nontraditional couples and families need the protection estate planning can provide.

Document your wishes

The first step to take in protecting your rights is to put your wishes in writing. Otherwise, the default rules of Michigan will apply. In other words, if you die without leaving a will, the state will take charge of dividing your assets in a way you may not have approved because the division could bypass your spouse or partner.

Establish a trust

Go a step further and consider establishing a revocable living trust. This gives whomever you wish the right to manage your assets without the necessity of going through probate. Through a trust, you can also name the person you want—not the person the court wants—to make healthcare decisions on your behalf should you become incapacitated.

Think about joint ownership

As a nontraditional couple, the two of you should also think about moving assets such as real property, investment accounts and bank accounts into joint ownership. That way, upon the death of one owner, such assets will automatically pass to the survivor.

Ensuring rights

Perhaps you have recently come together as a couple, or perhaps you have been the foundation of a family unit for decades. In any case, you have a need to protect your rights and those of your loved ones to see that your wishes are carried out properly. Hopefully, you can put together an estate plan that helps you accomplish these goals.