While many couples live together before they get married – or choose not to get married at all – their arrangement doesn’t provide the same legal protections for an unmarried couple that married couples can receive.
This can include your property, estate, health care, finances, and children.
To make sure you, your partner, and your assets are protected, use these tips.
Create a Will
When you are unmarried, there is no automatic inheritance for the significant other if one person dies. To ensure your property goes to your partner, you will need to create a will or establish a trust. Without this, your property will be assigned to others and will not necessarily go to your significant other.
Make Plans for Real Estate Property
If you own real estate property with your partner, it’s essential to hold title together as joint tenants or tenants in common. Otherwise, if a home or building is in one partner’s name and not the other’s, the significant other has no legal right to a share of the property if you split up or if one partner dies.
If the other partner made financial contributions to the property, then he or she may be able to claim an interest in it, particularly if the partner contributed money to upgrade the property to enhance its value during the relationship.
To avoid complications, make sure your partner is on title with you or that you have an enforceable, written contract specifying how much your partner will get if you die or sell the property.
Establish Parental Rights as an Unmarried Couple
If you share minor children with your partner, it’s crucial to make arrangements for their custody in the event of a breakup or death. You should agree on how to arrange custody if you split up, and document your agreement in writing signed by both of you. You should also make sure to put both the mother’s and father’s names on the baby’s birth certificate to avoid any confusion in the event one parent dies. This gives both parties parental rights and responsibilities.
Appoint Power of Attorney
In the case of an emergency, your significant other does not automatically have the rights a married spouse would. Therefore, as an unmarried couple, it’s important to give your partner your Power of Attorney in case you become disabled. You should also discuss your wishes with your significant other in case of disability or mental incapacity. You should execute an Advance Healthcare Directive giving your partner the power to make medical decisions on your behalf.
Set Up Your Life Insurance Policy
The benefits under your life insurance policy will not automatically go to your partner in the event of your death. Instead, you need to make sure your significant other is listed as your beneficiary.
Document Your Finances
As an unmarried couple, it might seem clinical, but it’s important to document all financial transactions between you and your partner. For example, if you loaned your significant other money, or contributed funds to purchase a property, you should write down the amount that was given, the purpose of the loan, the date of the loan, and any agreement you have reached regarding repayment. Then both people should sign it. This can protect your assets in the future in case of a breakup.
It’s also important to get your checking accounts in order. Ideally, try to set up joint accounts to ensure both partners have a stake in the money in the account. If the account is only in one partner’s name, then you should make sure the other is the beneficiary listed on the account, especially if he or she makes regular contributions to the account.
Dividing assets and property after death of a partner or break up of an unmarried couple can be difficult. Attorneys Deirdre Kingsbury and Noreen Evans understand the legal intricacies involved in splitting property. Let them help to make sure your interests are represented. At Evans Kingsbury LLP, we are family lawyers with decades of experience. Call us today at (707) 596-6090 or fill out our easy contact form to discuss your situation.