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Not married… don’t buy… don’t assume… don’t just trust

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The most viewed post that I have ever made on these real estate advice sites is the one titled “First Time Buyer – Should I buy a house with my boyfriend/girlfriend?” For the most part, I’m assuming that this article is found and read by young couples who may be planning to get married some day and who are currently living together. I get that a lot and many of these couples are trying to get ahead of the game by looking into buying their first home together. If that’s your case, go read that article.

But what of the cases of more mature adults who end up living together? Perhaps these are blended families, with one of both partners bringing children into the relationship with them or perhaps just divorcees who have met someone new. In some cases it could even be a widow and widower finding someone new to share their life with, or perhaps it involves a couple who have been living together so long that they might be considered to be “common-law” husband and wife.

For these cases the same general advice applies – if you aren’t married don’t buy a home together. This is especially true if there are children involved that are not directly related to both partners – children from prior relationships. The parent-child relationship usually trumps the most fervent love when it comes to protecting the child and his/her interests. Children and their rights are also most often are the source of the issues that cause legal problems at the death of one of the partners.

Unmarried couples who pool their resources to buy a home quite often find that they must put “the paperwork” in one party’s name, usually the family breadwinner; because the various parties involved, such as the mortgage company and the title company insists on identifying a responsible client/owner. It is possible to purchase with the title shared equally between two parties, but couples seldom do that; trusting instead in the verbal assurances from their partner that everything will be shared in the future. The blog post referenced above contains explanations of the various types of title that an unmarried couple may choose for a joint purchase. Unfortunately, too few actually take the time to make a good decision about that issue and many end up in a legal mess if the relationship unravels or the death of one of the partners end the relationship.

A relatively common scenario involves one of the parties moving into the existing home of the other partner. Perhaps they even live together there for many years, raising children together or just raising the children that were brought into the relationship. In many cases the partner who moved in may begin to believe that they have an interest in the property, perhaps because they have paid some or all of the household the bills for some time. Unfortunately there is no legal basis for that belief, which is often painfully revealed if the owner/partner passes away. The property that had been home for so long suddenly becomes the property of the heirs of the deceased, which could be adult children with no relationship to the co-habitant at all (sometimes even a strained relationship). It is then that all of the verbal assurances of the deceased partner to “take of you” fall apart and the troubles begin. There have been lots of those kinds of stories in the news, usually with bad endings.

This all sounds a bit severe and certainly isn’t as romantic as the love and devotion that you may share with a partner; but it is required in even the most trusting and devoted of relationships, to make sure that something undesired doesn’t happen with the property when something unexpected happens with the people involved. If the relationships with children from former marriages are OK; then, explain what you are doing as you go along. Adult children who are left out of those decisions will often claim later that their parent was duped or bamboozled out of property that rightfully should have gone to them. It can and does get ugly.

Written by Norm Werner for Copyright © 2014 Realty Times All Rights Reserved.