What are designated beneficiary agreements?

Unmarried couples make life-long commitments to each other but often lack legal rights and protections. Since 2009, unmarried couples in Colorado could enter designated beneficiary agreements.

Under these agreements, couples can affirm that they want each other to have legal rights, benefits and protections and the ability to make decisions about each other’s health care, estate administration, medical emergency or incapacity treatment, and end-of-life care.


Both parties in a designated beneficiary agreement must be at least 18, competent to enter into a contract, single and cannot be a party to another designated beneficiary agreement. Parties have to enter into these agreements voluntarily without being subjected to force, fraud, or duress.


Designated beneficiary agreements are an important estate planning tool. Sometimes, however, it may be easier to amend existing legal documents such as a will or power of attorney.

Designated beneficiary agreements may be helpful if you do not have these estate documents or there are coverage gaps. Your medical power of attorney, for example, may not address whether your designated beneficiary has visitation rights if you are in the hospital.

Designated beneficiary agreements grant these rights or protections to the people who enter these agreements:

  • Real and personal property.
  • Trusts.
  • Beneficiary recognition in retirement or pension plans.
  • Life and health insurance.
  • Priority petitions for appointment as conservator, guardian, or personal representative.
  • Health care facility visitation rights.
  • Filing complaints on a nursing home resident’s behalf.
  • Serving as proxy decision maker for surgical and health care treatment.
  • Receiving notice of withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining treatment.
  • Challenge the validity of a declaration for health or surgical treatment.
  • Inheritance.
  • Workers’ compensation.
  • Wrongful death lawsuit rights.
  • Anatomical gifts.
  • Last remains disposition.

Other legal documents

Certain legal documents supersede a designated beneficiary agreement. These include:

  • Wills and codicils.
  • Medical durable powers of attorney.
  • Trust instruments.
  • Declarations governing medical treatment or last remains dispositions.
  • Beneficiary designations in insurance or health care policies, retirement or pension plans and deposit or savings accounts.
  • Payable upon death contracts.


These agreements are revoked if either party files a notarized revocation of designated beneficiary agreement in the same county clerk and recorder office that recorded that agreement or either party marries.

The designated beneficiary agreement terminates when a designated beneficiary dies. The surviving party may continue to exercise rights and powers granted under that agreement.

Attorneys can prepare options that meet your family’s needs. They may also assist you with preparing documents to help assure that your wishes are met.