Partners who are not married or registered as domestic partners in California generally do not have rights to inherit from each other or control each other's assets should one partner die or become incapacitated. However, through estate planning and creating documents like living trusts, partners can structure the way they want their estates handled.
Operation of a Living Trust
With a living trust, the partners creating the trust transfer ownership of their assets from their own names into the name of the trust. A trustee named by the partners in the trust document manages the property during their lifetimes. They also have the option of naming themselves as trustees so they maintain control over their assets. With the death or incapacity of a trustee, another trustee can take over management of the assets. Typically, a living trust provides additional direction for how the couple's assets are to be distributed when the partners die. For example, the couple can structure the trust so that their assets go to their children upon their death. The living trust controls the distribution of their assets, allowing the assets in the trust to skip the probate process that might otherwise delay the transfer of the assets to the beneficiaries. If assets are not placed in a trust, they will likely be placed under the control of a probate court upon the owner's death and will only be distributed after the deceased's debts are paid.