Married couples often plan estate planning together since they share their assets and have the same children as their heirs. Spouses are often designated as each other’s beneficiaries and powers of attorney. But what about committed couples who share a home and possessions but choose not to marry? A domestic partnership, also known as a civil union, is a way to provide legal privileges to partners outside of marriage. Before same-sex marriage was legalized, civil unions were a popular alternative for same-sex couples. In the last twenty years, unmarried cohabiting couples have nearly tripled.
The Maryland State Senate passed a bill expanding the benefits for domestic partners, particularly in estate planning which became effective October 1, 2023, A surviving domestic partner now has many of the same rights as a spouse in cases of an intestate estate (the decedent did not have a will). They can inherit some or all of their deceased partner’s assets and have priority of appointment as Personal Representative of their partner’s estate. Any children of the couple are treated as if the couple were legally married. Domestic partners are also now exempt from Maryland inheritance tax. Previously, domestic partners only had a limited exemption on a jointly owned residence.
There is still one major benefit granted to a surviving spouse that is not available to a surviving domestic partner. If a surviving partner is unhappy with the share provided to them in the deceased partner’s will, they do not have the option to claim an elective share of the augmented estate. In most other aspects, however, a surviving registered domestic partner now has essentially the same rights as a surviving spouse.
Couples who wish to take advantage of these new benefits must file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the Maryland Register of Wills in their county of residence. This form can be downloaded via the Register of Wills website. The couple will not have to register again if they move to a different county in Maryland. If the partners end their relationship, they can file a Declaration of Termination of Domestic Partnership, dissolving the union and ending any claim to benefits.
As relationship models shift, the laws are shifting with them. Maryland’s new law ensures that committed couples are given similar rights and benefits after a partner’s death. In a domestic partnership but have not considered estate planning, speak with an estate planning attorney to learn more. The attorneys at Altman & Associates stand ready to advise clients about planning, tax, and fiduciary matters. Call the office at 301 468 3220 or go to the website at altmanassociates.net to learn more.