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There’s nothing wrong with sharing your hopes, dreams and life with someone you love.

However, unmarried couples face significant legal problems when one member of the couple dies without an estate plan — or leaves behind a plan that’s sadly outdated.

If you pass away without having a will in place, or intestate, the government decides what happens to your assets and personal items, which may override your private wishes. If you have children, they’ll inherit everything. If you don’t, your parents could inherit it all. If your parents have already preceded you, your siblings will likely inherit everything. Regardless, your partner may be left out — unless your relatives decide to turn something over.

Dying with an outdated will in place can be just as bad. If the last time you wrote your will was when your children were minors, you probably haven’t considered how your will could affect your partner.

There are some important questions you need to ask when thinking about end-of-life decisions:

  • If you die, would your partner be saddled with a lot of debt?
  • Who has the right to decide your burial or cremation?
  • Who should be responsible for dividing up family mementos and your other personal items?
  • If you are unable to make medical or financial decisions for yourself, who do you want to do it?
  • Who do you want to have access to you if you are in a hospital or nursing home?

It doesn’t matter how long you and your partner have been together. He or she could be legally shut out of your hospital room or nursing home by your next-of-kin if a dispute arises. While it’s nice to think everyone would respect your wishes, the reality is that hidden resentments often come to the surface and fighting starts as soon as someone gets sick or starts to decline.

Estate plans put your answers to these questions in writing. They also help create the necessary documents that will allow the person or people you want to have control of your affairs to act without a lot of legal wrangling.

If you and your partner have a loving bond, don’t let that be destroyed by poor estate planning. Sit your partner down and discuss all of these end-of-life issues and decide, together, what you want to see happen. Then, do what’s necessary to bring your estate plan current.