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What happens if you die and you aren't married to your partner?

People in committed relationships sometimes don't feel the absolute need to get married -- and that's fine. Just make sure that you and your partner take the steps necessary to protect each other if either of you should die or become incapacitated.

No matter how long you have been together, you and your partner simply don't have the automatic rights that married people have. Should either of you die without leaving a will, that could leave the surviving partner struggling to retain ownership of everything you have together -- from property to personal effects. Your partner would have less legal entitlement to those things than just about anyone who is related to you.

If you want your partner to have a say over your medical care should you become incapacitated, a medical power of attorney is another important piece of paperwork that you need to have completed. A financial power of attorney will give your partner the legal right to withdraw money from your bank account, pay your bills, handle your insurance paperwork and more in that kind of situation.

It may also be smart to establish a trust for your partner. Trusts are removed from someone's estate. That could potentially save your partner taxes and trouble if anyone decided to pursue your estate for your debts or challenge its terms.

As one financial planner stated, "A lot of spousal rights are inherent with a marriage certificate. For unmarried couples, though, you have to make a concerted effort to cover all your bases." To that end, it's smart to talk with an estate planning attorney about your options before it is too late.

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