6. You may not inherit each other's assets

Many people choose not to create a will or simply neglect to draft one with the belief that their spouse will inherit all or most of their assets when they die. This is less likely to be true if you're in a nontraditional relationship, though. In that case, your assets may go to blood relatives who may be hostile to your partner. You can find out what would happen if you die without a will according to your state's laws of intestacy at MyStateWill.com. If you're not happy with the outcome, there are several things you can do to ensure that your partner will inherit your property.

First, you can add your partner as a beneficiary on any life insurance policies, retirement accounts and annuities. Second, you might add your partner as a joint owner with rights of survivorship to bank and investment accounts, home deeds and vehicle titles. Just keep in mind that they would be co-owned with your partner right away and could be subject to the person's creditors. Another option is to see if your state allows you to add beneficiaries to those assets with a payable or transfer on death form.

For the remainder of your estate, you can draft a will or, better yet, a trust, which provides the additional benefits of privacy and avoiding the costs in time and money of probate. You can get basic documents fairly inexpensively on sites like Nolo and LegalZoom.com. However, it's typically recommended that you hire a qualified attorney to at least look over any documents you create on your own, especially if there's a chance of your estate being contested. This can be expensive, but your employer may offer discounted access to legal documents or services.

Otherwise, if you don't know a good estate-planning attorney or someone who can refer one to you, check with your local bar association's lawyer referral service or with national estate-planning networks like the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, the National Network of Estate Planning Attorneys and the American College of Trust and Estate Council.

7. Your estate may be subject to higher taxes

Federal law allows you to pass on an unlimited amount of wealth to a federally recognized citizen spouse without estate or gift tax. That spouse can also use any of your remaining $5.12 million lifetime exemption, plus his or her own exemption, to pass that amount on tax-free upon death. Nontraditional relationships aren't eligible for these tax breaks, so if you're worried about having a taxable estate (more than $1 million starting next year, under current law), you may want to start gifting assets to your partner up to the $13,000 per year that you can give without having to file a gift tax return. For a business or piece of real estate, you may want to purchase life insurance so your partner isn't forced to sell the property to pay the estate tax.

As you can see, partners in a nontraditional relationship face unique challenges. Unfortunately, most of these matters don't get much attention because they affect such a small percentage of the population. In addition, they tend not to come to light until it's too late to do anything about them. There may come a day when the federal government provides the same legal rights to these relationships. Until then, all that's needed is a little extra planning.

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