Gay couples who are unmarried, but in a long-term relationship, may want to consider a plan for the unfortunate possibility that the relationship may end at some point. Just like with marriages, separation can be stressful. Written property agreements can eliminate the potential for a lengthy, and potentially expensive, fight if they ever separate.
The substance of a property agreement
Like other types of contracts, a property agreement is easily customizable. As such, each couple can include the elements that are needed to meet their specific needs. There are two primary goals for a property agreement drafted for an unmarried couple. The first goal is to deal with ownership of the couple’s property. That should include not only separate property, but also assets that were acquired during the relationship. The second goal is to establish whether or not the income and expenses of the couple will be shared.
Issues of property ownership
Not every couple is the same. Some choose to keep their property separately owned, while others agree to own their property jointly. One way to handle joint ownership of property acquired during the relationship, is to use a “joint purchase agreement” for all major assets.
Income and expenses
A property agreement can also address whether the couple will share income and expenses equally, or divide them in some other specific way. The terms of the agreement can also specify whether the couple will maintain separate bank accounts and credit cards, or whether they will maintain joint accounts. The most important terms typically address how the property should be divided in the event the couple decides to separate. Including these terms can prevent a nasty property dispute.
Will I be liable for my partner’s debts?
Typically, unmarried partners are not liable for each other’s debts, simply because they are in a relationship. Now, if you actually take responsibility for a specific debt, such as co-signing on a loan, then you could be held liable for the balance. You can also accept responsibility for charges to a joint account, such as a credit card.
If one partner dies, how will the surviving partner inherit?
Without a will or other estate planning measures, the surviving unmarried partner will not inherit anything under the law. Some states allow unmarried same-sex couples to register as domestic partners or enter into a civil union. In those cases, the surviving partner can automatically inherit a portion of the deceased partner’s estate.
But, it would be unwise for unmarried gay couples to rely on these rules for their estate planning. In order to protect your surviving partner, it is best to leave property to them in a will, living trust, or other legal document.
If you have questions regarding property agreements, or any other LGBTQ estate planning needs, please contact the Schomer Law Group either online or by calling us at (310) 337-7696.