While married couples are automatically protected in the event of some medical, legal and inheritance issues, the same is not true for the many Florida couples who live together but are not married. Under current law, such individuals are penalized when they attempt to transfer large amounts of money or make other important financial decisions jointly. However, with the proper estate planning steps, such couples can enjoy the same rights as those who are married.

First, unmarried couples should have a living will and a medical power of attorney drafted. A living will allows individuals to specify what should happen to them in the event they become incapacitated, and a medical power of attorney allows them to authorize their partners to visit them in a hospital, access medical records and make important decisions.

Live-in couples should also sign Transfer on Death designations. A resident of Florida can list a beneficiary on his or her home, allowing the deed to be transferred to a partner in the event the homeowner dies. Such a designation also allows stock holdings to be transferred to the listed beneficiary.

Other forms can be used to provide beneficiaries with IRAs, annuities, life insurance, 401(k) plans and other assets. Domestic partners - especially those who own a business - should also consider signing a power of attorney, which allows one person to transfer, make transactions with and otherwise handle the other's financial assets.

As more couples continue to take a less traditional route when it comes to relationships, it is important that they understand how to protect themselves and their partner in the event of a sudden or untimely death.

Source: Investing Answers, "3 Financial Protections for Live-In Partners," Gwynneth Anderson, 28 June 2011