Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So You Are Living Together? What Can Go Wrong?

Lots. Most of it can unpleasant if not properly planned for by you and your significant other.

Indiana has no protection for couples living together who do not take specific actions (now, dear reader, you see why I have been posted about legislation in other locales). Indiana does not recognize common law marriages.

The following comes from the Madeline Stowe Blog, and although she is writing of an English case, I do not see any different outcome if this had been an Indiana case:

I have decided to write about it precisely because it is an “everyday” case, not a glamorous one at all. The facts are unremarkable. The man and woman lived together for 27 years and had two children. Their family home was registered in the man’s name only. The man also had three children from a previous marriage.

Like most couples, both parties worked. He earned far more than she did, but both contributed fully to the household expenses. Then, aged 54, the man unexpectedly and suddenly died from a heart attack. He died ‘intestate’, meaning that he left no will.

For the woman this was a disaster - not only emotionally, but also legally. Had she been his wife she would have been entitled to inherit her share of the estate, automatically under the intestacy laws. (Please note that there is no substitute for making a will - see below.)

She discovered that as an unmarried cohabitant, she was not automatically entitled to anything. Because he left no will and was not married, his partner was not his next of kin. Therefore, nothing passed to her in law. Instead, the man’s next of kin in law were his five children.

What could the woman do? There followed distressing and ruinously expensive contested litigation in the Chancery Division, which included consideration of her intimate relationship with the man and an action against her own children. Her lawyers tried to persuade the court that under property law, she had acquired a joint interest in the family home. All her efforts failed. The judge found there was never a common intention that the property should be held jointly.

Ms. Stowe provides a short checklist I approve of but to which I would add a small note - consider what property needs to be held jointly.

If you are going to live together, then do it right. Call a lawyer to make sure both of you are protected.

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