Con­tract can help un­wed pairs solve prop­erty is­sues

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE -

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.

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