Contract can help unwed pairs solve property issues
A: Yes, there is such a document, and it is called a partnership agreement. Married couples get divorces, and if the parties cannot agree on the distribution of assets — including the family home — the court will make that decision. The same is true of two people who are not married but move into a home or condo together.
But why should they ever have to go to court? A partnership agreement should be entered into between the parties before they move into the house. It spells out such things as: If one person wants to move out, what do we do? If one of us cannot afford to pay our share of the living expenses, what is the solution? How do we allocate expenses? Who owns the furniture? And so on. A good attorney should be able to craft the appropriate agreement.
A word of caution: The attorney cannot represent both parties, so each will have to get his or her own lawyer.
Also, how should the couple take title? The two options are tenants in common — where each owns an indivisible half of the property — or joint tenants with rights of survivorship. In the former, should one of the owners die, his or her heirs will inherit the half ownership interest. In the joint tenants with rights of survivorship arrangement, on the death of one tenant, the survivor will, by law, own the entire house.
This issue cannot be taken lightly. For example, if one of the parties has children from a previous marriage, and wants his or her children to inherit the house, title must be held as tenants in common.
Let me quickly dispel a myth. Just because you give someone your property in your will does not necessarily mean that person will get it. The way the property is owned overrides the will.
A: Lien law, like smoke detector law, varies by state. I suspect you could file a lien but suggest you contact a local attorney who can guide you to the right path.
Depending on the amount in question, you may be able to sue the third family in small claims court. While I believe it is useful to have an attorney involved in the process, it is not required or necessary. I have found that most clerks in small claims courts are very helpful.
A partnership agreement for unmarried partners living together spells out answers to sticky legal questions.