Unmarried Estate Planning: How to Ensure Your Assets Hit Their Intended Target

Estate planning is often considered a topic reserved for married couples or those with children. However, it is even more important for unmarried individuals to have a well-thought-out estate plan in place. Without one, the state will dictate how your assets are distributed, which may not align with your wishes. More importantly, people who are not your lienal descendants or heirs will likely be disregarded altogether. Here is a guide to estate planning for unmarried individuals to ensure your assets go where you want them to.

Why Unmarried Estate Planning is Important

When you are unmarried, the default laws of Missouri intestate succession come into play if you pass away without a will or estate plan. In Missouri and many other jurisdictions, these laws prioritize blood relatives over unmarried partners or friends. This can lead to unintended consequences, such as:

  • Your assets going to distant relatives instead of close friends or partners; and
  • Your unmarried partner or friend being left with nothing, even if you intended for them to inherit; and
  • Lengthy legal battles over the distribution of your estate, causing stress and financial strain for your loved ones; and

Steps to Create an Unmarried Estate Plan

  1. Draft a Will: The most basic and essential document in estate planning is a will. In your will, you can specify how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. Be clear and specific about who should inherit what to avoid any ambiguity.
  2. Name Beneficiaries: For assets like retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and payable-on-death bank accounts, you can name beneficiaries directly. These assets will bypass probate and go directly to the named beneficiaries.
  3. Create a Trust: If you have significant assets or want to provide for someone over an extended period, consider creating a trust. A trust allows you to place conditions on how and when your assets are distributed.
  4. Designate Power of Attorney: Choose someone you trust to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Without a designated power of attorney, decisions may be left to the courts.
  5. Consider Advance Directives: Documents like a living will or healthcare proxy specify your wishes regarding medical treatment if you are unable to communicate. This ensures your preferences are known and respected.
  6. Update Beneficiary Designations: Regularly review and update beneficiary designations on accounts and policies to reflect any changes in your relationships or wishes.

Special Considerations for Unmarried Couple Estate Planning

If you are in a committed relationship but not married, there are additional considerations to keep in mind:

  • Joint Property Ownership: If you own property together, consider how you want your share to be distributed. Without proper planning, your share may not automatically go to your partner.
  • Cohabitation Agreements: Consider creating a cohabitation agreement that outlines financial responsibilities, property ownership, and what happens in the event of a breakup or death.
  • Guardianship for Children: If you have children from a previous relationship or plan to have children, suggest who will have custody in case something happens to you. Make sure to discuss this with the chosen guardian beforehand.
  • Healthcare and Financial Decisions: If you fail to appoint an agent or attorney-in-fact in a Power of Attorney prior to your incapacity, your friend or partner may be excluded by the courts with deference instead given to your parents, sisters, or brothers. Moreover, your parents, sisters, or brothers may also receive preferential treatment by the courts when it comes to appointing a guardian or conservator for you in a similar time of need.

Review and Update Any Estate Plan Regularly

Estate planning is not a one-time task; it requires regular review and updates. Major life events such as marriage, the birth of a child, or the acquisition of significant assets should prompt a review of your estate plan to ensure it still reflects your wishes.


Unmarried estate planning for singles and couples may not be a common topic of conversation, but it is just as crucial as it is for married individuals. By taking the time to create an estate plan tailored to your unique circumstances, you can ensure your assets go where you want them to, minimize potential conflicts among beneficiaries, and provide peace of mind for yourself and your loved ones. Do not leave these important decisions to chance or the default laws of Missouri intestate succession; consult with a seasoned estate planning attorney to help you create a plan that meets your needs.

Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including bankruptcy, estate planning, probate, and elder law. He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006. He has been awarded the Substantial Contributor Attorney Award by the Missouri Bar and ranked as one of the “Top Attorneys in Missouri” by The Legal Network. Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991. You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.