More and more people are staying unmarried these days. Maybe the 50% divorce rate has something to do with it, I don’t know. Really, I don’t know.

Living this way doesn’t mean you have to miss out on all of the advantages of being married.

Unmarried couples can buy a home, almost as easily as a married couple.

However, because you are unmarried, you both need to take steps, legally, to protect your interests, financially, and, otherwise.

Unmarried couples need to decide how to title their home, or how to structure ownership, because different structures have different consequences.

Many unmarried couples choose the “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” structure, which allows for an automatic and probate-free transfer to a surviving partner. Still, for couples with taxable estates, it can trigger an additional tax bill. Since married couples can transfer assets to each other tax-free, estate taxes aren’t owed until the second spouse dies.

But unmarried people risk being taxed on a property twice: A surviving partner may pay estate taxes on the portion of a property he or she already owned since the Internal Revenue Service may consider the first partner to die the sole owner, and the full value of the property would be taxed again upon the second partner’s death.

Both partners “need to have records to prove their contribution to the purchase and upkeep of the property, or else the IRS will presume the first person [to die] owned everything,” says Rick Kraft, an estate-planning attorney in Boston who focuses on same-sex couples.

Tenancy-in-common — when coupled with a revocable living trust — is a more flexible way to title one’s home, attorneys say. This structure allows partners to own unequal interests in the property, but there’s no automatic transfer after one dies unless it’s designated by the living trust.

There’s a lot more to it. The Real Estate Journal article covers the major issues. Your attorney can also offer their opinion on the matter. As your partner’s mother can and will, probably.

Unamrried Couples Who Buy Property Need Extra Protections – By Tara Siegel Bernard, The Real Estate Journal

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Updated: January 2018

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