How Has Family Structure Changed in the U.S.?

Family structure in U.S. households has changed dramatically over the past half-century. The economically stable nuclear family unit of the 1950s is no longer the norm. In 2020, married couple households comprised only 46% of all U.S. households, as recorded by the United States Census Bureau. One-person households increased from 25% in 1990 to 28% in 2020. Married couple households with children under 18 decreased by 6%. Cohabitation is becoming more common, and approximately one-quarter of all babies from 2017 to 2019 were born to cohabiting couples.

What Are the Most Common Relationships Among Household Members?

According to Census Bureau data for 2020, the majority of the 323.2 million people living in U.S. households were either the householder, their spouse or partner or their children. These groups made up 89% of the U.S. household population. The complete breakdown of the household population in the U.S. was as follows:

  • Householders – 39.2%
  • Opposite sex spouses – 17.9%
  • Opposite sex unmarried partners – 2.6%
  • Same sex spouses – 0.2%
  • Same sex unmarried partners – 0.2%
  • Biological sons and daughters – 27.3%
  • Adopted daughters and sons – 0.6%
  • Stepdaughters and stepsons – 1.2%
  • Sisters and brothers – 1.3%
  • Mothers and fathers – 1.4%
  • Grandchildren – 2.5%
  • Mothers and fathers-in-law – 0.3%
  • Sons and daughters-in-law – 0.5%
  • Other relatives – 1.5%
  • Housemates and roommates – 2.3%
  • Foster children – 0.1%
  • Other non-relatives – 1.1%

What Types of Nontraditional Families Are Common Today?

Many families today are a far cry from the “Leave It to Beaver” household of the 1950s and 1960s. Financially stable, opposite-gender parents who marry for life and raise one or more healthy, well-adjusted children are no longer the norm. It is no longer feasible in most cases for one parent to work while the other stays home to care for the children and keep house. Nontraditional families today include:

  • Unmarried couples with children or stepchildren
  • Grandparents raising grandchildren
  • Families with adopted children or foster children
  • Blended families with children from previous marriages
  • Same-sex married couples, with or without children
  • Same-sex cohabiting couples
  • Same-sex couples raising children from previous heterosexual relationships
  • Adult children caring for aging parents
  • Single parents raising children

Why Is Estate Planning Important for Nontraditional Families?

Nontraditional families may face unique legal issues in estate planning. A well-crafted estate plan is essential to ensure your wishes are respected, and your loved ones are protected. It can be designed to address legal matters nontraditional families may face, such as ownership of property, transfer of assets, guardianship of children, and healthcare decisions. Proper estate planning is essential to ensure a nontraditional family member’s estate is passed on to loved ones in accordance with their wishes.

What Are the Legal Considerations in Estate Planning for Nontraditional Arizona Families?

Same Sex Marriages

Although Arizona statutes still ban same-sex marriage, the ban is unenforceable due to the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling in 2015. In addition, the federal Respect for Marriage Act of 2022 provides statutory authority for same-sex marriages, and requires recognition of same-sex marriage contracted outside of the state. The act replaces provisions in federal law that define marriage as between a man and a woman and define a spouse as a person of the opposite sex.

The Respect for Marriage Act recognizes any marriage between two individuals as valid. Today, same-sex spouses have the same legal rights as opposite-sex spouses under Arizona intestate succession law. If a married person dies without a will, the spouse inherits everything, even if the couple has surviving children or grandchildren together.

Same-sex couples with children face particular estate planning challenges. A couple may have children from one spouse’s previous heterosexual relationship. Female couples may have children with the help of a sperm donor, and male couples may employ surrogacy and donor eggs. In either case, when a child results, only one spouse is the biological parent. Unmarried couples in Arizona are not allowed to adopt together, only individually. Even when a same-sex couple is married, non-biological parents are not automatically awarded legal parent status. This can be a serious matter if one parent dies or becomes incapacitated.

Unmarried Couples

Many couples today choose not to marry. Without the legal protection of marriage, these couples face certain financial risks, including the following:

  • Unmarried partners have no automatic legal rights to the assets of the other should one of them die.
  • The law is less clear about shared property for unmarried couples.
  • Healthcare and end-of-life decisions go to the next of kin, typically not an unmarried partner under the law.
  • Non-spouse beneficiaries who inherit IRAs are subject to stricter requirements as to when funds must be withdrawn.
  • Unmarried partners are not eligible for Social Security spousal benefits or survival benefits.
  • When a loved one dies, an unmarried partner can incur estate tax, gift tax, and generation-skipping transfer tax.

What Estate Planning Factors Should Nontraditional Families Consider?

In creating estate plans, nontraditional families should consider the following key factors:

  • Ownership and transfer of property: Particularly for unmarried couples, it is critical that ownership and title to property allow for smooth transfer upon the death of either party. Possible solutions include establishing a living trust and placing property in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship.
  • Custody and guardianship of children: For some unmarried couples and same-sex couples with children, one partner is not the legal parent. In this case, it is essential to establish guardianship and custody arrangements in your estate plan.
  • Healthcare decisions: Partners in nontraditional families should have powers of attorney designating who will make healthcare decisions on their behalf should they become incapacitated. Otherwise, family members may not have the legal authority to do so.

Particularly for nontraditional families, it is wise to seek sound legal guidance from an experienced attorney when creating an estate plan. At Israel & Gerity, we treat our clients with compassion, and we excel in estate planning law. Call us today at 800-659-7575 to schedule a free consultation. We can assist you with estate planning for a nontraditional family.