Moving in with your special someone may seem like the logical next step if you have been dating for awhile. It gives you time to be close to them without taking the full plunge into married life. Before combining households, though, it is important to make sure your legal interests are protected just in case things don't work out. The following tips can help.
Tip #1: Know Your State Rules
You don't want to end up "accidentally" married. In some states, such as Colorado, Iowa, and Kansas, a common law marriage is a possibility. Fortunately, you usually have to do specific things in order to make the common law marriage official. This may require having children with your significant other, or simply referring to each other as spouses. The repercussions usually affect you only if the relationship ends, since a common law spouse often has many of the same legal rights as a traditional spouse.
Tip #2: Protect Your Assets
Generally, any assets that were yours before moving in together remain yours afterward. Even items you purchase on your own remain yours if the relationship dissolves. The tricky part comes with shared assets and liabilities. For example, if you buy a house with your partner, you will both own it and be responsible for the payments, even if you eventually go your separate ways. The same for joint credit cards – you are both responsible for the debt, regardless of who made the purchase. It's best to keep both assets and debts separate until such time as you choose to enter a traditional marriage contract. If you do choose to buy a home, have the loan in one person's name and make sure that person can cover the mortgage payment on their own if necessary. You should also keep separate personal checking and savings accounts, although you can have a small joint account specifically for bill paying.
Tip #3: Create Estate Documents
Illness and end of life issues can become especially sticky when you are unmarried. If you want your partner to receive your assets if you pass, you will need to have a valid will drawn up. You may also want to have living will documents and powers of attorney in place that gives your partner financial and health decision making rights in the event of illness or injury. Otherwise, your partner may not even be able to visit you in the hospital if you become deathly ill.
Meet with a family law attorney before you move in together to make sure you are legally and financially protected. This can safe a lot of heartache later.