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What commitment looks like for unmarried couples

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2023 | Asset Division

The number of unmarried couples delaying or altogether forgoing marriage is rising. A key finding in a Pew Research Center study shows that 59% of US adults, ages 18-44, have experienced cohabitation. Several Americans, including those in the state of Washington, consider living together first an essential stepping stone toward a fruitful marriage.

But what if you break up or one dies before you tie the knot?

Cohabitation agreement provisions

A cohabitation agreement is a legal document about arrangements on cohabitants’ finances and properties in case of a potential split. These provisions may include the following:

  • Who is responsible for paying the mortgage if purchased or the rent if leased
  • Who maintains the monthly bills for utilities, insurance, and other miscellaneous needs
  • What happens to debts incurred and bank accounts and other material possessions acquired during the course of the relationship

Both parties’ accountability, even until death, proves paramount.

End-of-life considerations

In the event of death, the surviving partner does not receive a legal right to inheritance by default. It is then crucial to have that detailed discussion about proactively securing each other’s future.

  • Develop a will designating each other as a beneficiary. Without a will, an intestate succession occurs wherein the court decides how to distribute the deceased partner’s properties as dictated by existing state laws. Kinship – parents, siblings, children and other relatives – is the standard practice for distribution.
  • Create an estate plan. Joint tenancy with a right of survivorship pertains to the legal process of jointly owning accounts and real estate with equal shares. Once one dies, another automatically claims full ownership. Tenants-in-common is another option. Unlike joint tenancy with equal privileges, unmarried cohabitants decide the percentage share. The will must reflect the corresponding distribution upon death.
  • Prepare durable powers of attorney. These legal documents ensure that the surviving partner can decide on behalf of the incapacitated partner over financial and medical affairs and act in the best interests of the indisposed.

The compatibility of every couple, despite varying dynamics, heavily rests on a balanced understanding of each other’s lifestyle and overall objectives.

A vow to be each other’s keeper

Unmarried couples go through life making important decisions together. As complicated as it is, preparing for the unknown calls for deliberation of long-term relationship goals.