Shafae Law

Shafae Law

Shafae Law is a boutique law firm providing comprehensive estate planning, trust, estate, probate, and trust administration services located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Married: You Either Are or You Aren't.

Have you heard that story about the couple who lived together for seven years, and then they accidentally became married? Or what about the one where your friends were in a “common law” marriage?

Well… they’re both bogus concepts. At least in California. We don’t even know where the “seven year” part came from.

In California, you’re either married with a state license and certificate from the county clerk (and a few other requirements) or you’re not married. Period. There’s no intermediary status. There’s no “common law” marriage. You can’t accidentally find yourself in a marriage. The law doesn’t care how long it took your significant other to propose, or the size of the ring… or whether there was a ring at all! There are a dozen or so states that recognize “common law” marriage, but we’re not one of them.

So how does the law view your live-in significant other? You know, the person you’ve been living with romantically for years?

To put it simply: short of marriage, the law views your significant other as a roommate. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived together, whether you have children together, or whether you share ownership of property. You need that marriage license in order to be considered lawfully married.

Married couples enjoy benefits that unmarried people do not. Married couples are legally considered family (for example: when visiting one another in a hospital, or for inheritance purposes, or for health care benefits). Unmarried couples cannot own community property. That’s only for married couples, too. Also, tax treatment for married couples is dramatically different than for an unmarried couple.

You may have heard of “Registered Domestic Partners”. Or just “domestic partners”. But that has its own set of requirements, and is governed by state law. It doesn’t happen accidentally or automatically. And it’s only recognized in a few states (including California), but not by the federal government, like marriage is.

A couple’s decision not to marry does not detract from the love, trust, support or any of the interpersonal relationship benefits married couples can share. However, it is important for an unmarried couple to know that the law treats couples in vastly different ways based solely on marital status. A marriage certificate may literally be “just a piece of paper” but that piece of paper has important legal ramifications.

If you would like to discuss how your situation would be affected by getting married (or not), please contact us for a free consultation.

Why Would A Married Couple Need an Estate Plan?

A friend of ours recently contacted us with a question that comes up frequently enough that we wanted to share it with you:

We are married and everything that we own is held jointly/as community property. We own a house, but we don’t have any kids and we don’t have debt. Do we need a will? Do we need a trust? Why?”

To the first question: Yes. You need a will whether you have a trust or not. (Click here to read our post explaining what a will does. And click here to read about intestacy.)

To the second question: Yes. Because….

  1. Incapacity. Incapacity doesn’t just mean “coma,” (although that counts too). It could be that you went into surgery and had a bad reaction to the anesthesia so you can’t quite function as you ordinarily would. Or, it could be dementia. It could be temporary, it could be permanent. But a will doesn’t let you address incapacity situations. A trust allows you to plan for incapacity. It allows you to plan for who will take care of your assets and use your assets for your benefit when you are still living. Just because your spouse is on title doesn’t mean your spouse has all the necessary authority to care for you in the event of your incapacity. (Click here to read our previous post explaining incapacity.)

  2. Contingency planning. Wills do not address all contingencies. But trusts allow for lapses and contingency planning. What if your spouse becomes incapacitated after you do? What if your intended beneficiary is still a minor (younger than 18 years old)? What if your intended beneficiary has a substance abuse or gambling issue later on? What if your intended beneficiary has special needs and requires means-tested government assistance? What if your beneficiary predeceases you? These issues can be planned for in a trust in advance.

  3. Probate. You’ve probably heard the term “probate” with some negative connotation. (Click here to read our previous post explaining probate.) If you have a trust, you avoid probate. Probate takes about 18-24 months; it’s a public proceeding; and it’s expensive.

So even if you are married and hold everything jointly, that may only ensure that your spouse receives your assets upon your death. But so many other scenarios can occur. We might recommend you consider a trust given your situation and desires. All of our recommendations depend on your specific family and estate planning goals. To ascertain what is best for you we would need to meet with you, in a free consultation, to understand your goals, assess and explain your options, and provide you with a recommendation tailored to your situation. Call or email us today.


What is... Incapacity?

This is part of an on-going series of blog posts titled the "What Is..." series, where we attempt to explain, in simple terms, common estate planning terms and concepts. To read other posts in this series, click here.

When people talk about “estate planning,” many times the focus is on death. However, there is another event that we recommend planning for: incapacity. The first thought people have about incapacity is that it means being in a coma. To many people’s unfortunate surprise, incapacity can and will happen under much broader circumstances.

  1. Incapacity can be a temporary condition

If something happened while you were under anesthesia and someone needed to contact your health insurance company or withdraw money from your bank account, do you have any documents in place to allow someone to do that? Most people don’t. Or what if you had a bad reaction to prescribed medication? Who has the legal authority to act on your behalf? If you’re married, and you’re relying on your spouse to step in, being married does not automatically allow your spouse to do these things for you.

We had a client recently who had a bad reaction to medication. He had to go to the hospital and was not exactly coherent during that time. Additionally, he did not WANT to have to make financial and healthcare decisions during that time. He did not feel able to do that. And, frankly, he had more important things to focus on. He’s fine now! But during that time period, he was incapacitated. He was very happy to have documents in place to allow for someone else to handle those other issues on his behalf.

2. Incapacity can happen suddenly

Think of any car accident you saw on your way to work. The people involved did not plan for that accident to happen. One of the people may have been hospitalized either short term or longer term, during which they may have been incapacitated. They certainly didn’t plan on needing the use of their powers of attorney that day, but that’s why it’s important to plan ahead.

3. Incapacity can be longer term, or even permanent

Yes, incapacity can also involve a coma or dementia or any number of conditions that simply do not improve. Some of these conditions can be seen from a distance away (e.g. a slow onset of dementia), and sometimes they can’t be (e.g. a stroke, or catastrophic brain injury).

The problem with waiting to know that a future incapacity will occur (like dementia/Alzheimer’s disease) before executing estate planning documents is that the person must have capacity to execute documents. If there is any question about an individual’s capacity to execute documents, it may require a doctor’s confirmation and/or further legal proceedings. It’s a bit of a catch-22: when we have capacity, few people feel like they’ll ever lose capacity. When you’re already incapacitated, it’s too late. Your loved ones are stuck.

Bottom line: plan while you can. Once you have your plan in place you have the peace of mind in knowing that you and your loved ones will be taken care of properly. Contact us for a free consultation to help you construct the plan that’s best for you.


➤ LOCATIONS

303 Twin Dolphin Drive
Suite 600
Redwood City, California 94065

12100 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 800
Los Angeles, California 90025

 

Office Hours

Monday - Friday
9AM - 5PM

☎ Contact

info@shafaelaw.com
(650) 389-9797
(310) 526-0298