Estate Planning Tips for Unmarried Couples

6/21/2016The percentage of unmarried couples living together has increased from a bit more than 1% of all couples in 1960 to about 12% today. Marriage offers many legal and financial protections, so if you're planning to live together without getting married, you should take these extra steps to protect you and your partner.

Money's article, "Don't Shack Up Until You Do These 3 Things," lists three specific steps you need to take before renting the moving crew.

  1. Set Out an Agreement. Rather than assuming all the financial details will work themselves out once you're living together, create a "living together contract" or "relationship agreement." This agreement will outline how you both will manage and pay for expenses, such as the rent or mortgage, food, childcare, utilities, and other living expenses. Many matrimonial lawyers will draft what is called a "no-nup" (as in, no nuptials). The contract will have agreed-upon terms for the division of assets if a future breakup happens. While admittedly these documents aren't terribly romantic, they allow people to split amicably, if necessary, avoiding fighting, expenses, or a potential court battle.
  2. Decide on Property Ownership. Your relationship agreement also needs to state if one of you already owns property. You should decide if you want to co-own the property and, if so, whether you want to own it jointly with rights of survivorship. That means if one partner dies, the other automatically will inherit the property. You also need to talk about which one of you will claim tax-deductible expenses, such as mortgage interest and property taxes.
  3. Prepare Your Estate Planning. Marriage also typically gives you some basic protections for a shared estate. However, unmarried couples serious enough to move in together should consult an estate attorney to draft specific documents—like wills, a health care power of attorney, and a durable power of attorney. Also, if you have significant net worth which would make you liable for federal estate tax, you should ask your attorney about a trust.

Reference: Money (April 28, 2016) "Don't Shack Up Until You Do These 3 Things"

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