Jul
30
Unmarried Persons and Joint Assets
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My partner just passed away, and I'm concerned about our joint assets and about the assets he left to me in the will. What should I do?
It's hard during such a trying and difficult time to think about having to fight to maintain your lifestyle and get "back to normal" just because you were not legally married to your life partner. These issues apply to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, as well as people in platonic relationships who nonetheless live together and have combined their assets, as is often the case with elderly sisters and brothers. Your first step should be to seek out counsel that is experienced in handling trusts and estate issues, particularly with respect to joint assets. The right attorney will be your trusted ally and advisor to help you navigate the legal waters and support you.
If I want transfer assets to my unmarried partner, will I be taxed?
The federal government treats legally married couples as a single economic unit. Married couples, whatever their sexual orientation, enjoy an "unlimited marital deduction" during life and at death. That means that spouses can make unlimited transfers to each other without incurring gift tax, and may leave an unlimited amount to their spouse at death, even if that amount exceeds the federal estate tax exemption at the time of death. Unmarried couples do not enjoy this benefit. If you transfer more than $14,000 to your partner (this is for 2014; the amount changes every year), with limited exceptions to pay for medical or education costs, you will  have to file a gift tax return and pay a gift tax. You may elect to use your lifetime gift exemption of $5.34 million (adjusted annually for inflation) which is afforded to every individual, regardless of marital status, however, that exemption can be used up very quickly over time.  

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