Love in the time of COVID-19

Here we are, in the middle of a pandemic.  Couples are cohabiting, unmarried, often much longer than they expected to.  And that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because married couples have a multitude of legal rights and protections which aren’t available to unmarried couples.  It’s a problem if one of you becomes ill, disabled, or dies.  I know, you’re young and healthy, and etc., but we’re in the middle of a freaking plague that will get worse before it gets better.

Unmarried couples should worry about:

  • The authority to make healthcare decisions
  • The right to visit your partner in the hospital
  • Property ownership
  • Access to financial accounts
  • Ability to pay bills
  • Caring for children
  • Inheritance

Does this mean that you should forego premarital counseling and race down to the courthouse asap?  That’s one solution, and I won’t try to talk you out of it, although you should eventually undertake premarital (marital?) counseling to make sure your relationship toolbox is in good shape.

There are other actions you can take to protect yourselves.  Not coincidentally, most of them are actions every couple should take, married or not.

What you can do

Write your will ~ Even if you’re young or poor, one of the most valuable purposes of a will is that it allows you to name an executor, the person who will empty your drawers and find your old love letters. If you don’t want that task falling to your mom, you need a will.  A will is particularly important if you have children and don’t want your mom — or the state — to decide what will happen to them.

Write your living will ~ Most hospitals will do everything they can to keep you alive, unless you tell them otherwise.  A living will, also called an advanced healthcare directive, makes your preferences clear.  It tells your doctor whether you want to be resuscitated, how the hospital should proceed in the case of brain death, whether you want to donate any of your organs, etc.   You don’t need an attorney to write a living will.  There are lots of online forms available.  Once you have signed and dated it, give a copy to your partner and doctor.

Name your healthcare power of attorney ~ Your healthcare power of attorney, aka your health proxy, is the person who ensures that your healthcare wishes be carried out if you are unable to speak for yourself.  Again, there are forms available online to help you establish your partner (or someone else) in this role.  Once you have signed and dated it, give a copy to your partner and doctor.

Name your financial power of attorney ~ Establishing your partner as durable power of attorney for financial management gives him/her the authority to manage your property and finances if you are unable to do so.

Buy life insurance ~ If your household would suffer financially should one of you die, you both need life insurance.  It will help your surviving partner pay the bills.  If you have children, insurance benefits can help provide their care throughout their lives, even into college.

Register your domestic partnership ~ Many states allow you to establish a legal domestic partnership contract, similar to the marriage contract.  This gives your relationship the rights that marriage offers, including the right to include your partner on your health insurance.  Check with your state’s Register of Deeds for information.  (Wisconsin no longer accepts new applications, although it does honor domestic partnership established prior to April 2018.)

Wear yer mask ~ You can significantly reduce the possibility that you or your partner will be called upon to act as your healthcare or financial proxy if you do everything you can to stay healthy and protect your partner’s health.

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