Unmarried couples who are living together have the option of creating a number of legal documents (often called “cohabitation agreements”) that can help protect their rights as a couple, while at the same time safeguarding their individual interests and assets. Since unmarried couples who live together may one day split up, especially outside of the legal bonds and social institution of marriage, it makes sense to plan ahead in order to avoid future conflicts. This sub-section includes information about when you might need a cohabitation agreement, what it can do for you, the different ways they can be drafted, and related matters such as wills and durable power of attorney.
Legality of Cohabitation Agreements
Unmarried couples have not always had the option to enter into contracts to provide some of the protections of marriage without actually getting married. After some litigation on the matter it has become fairly well established that there are three legal bases by which nonmarital agreements can be established.
Subject Matter of Cohabitation Agreements
The legal requirements for a valid cohabitation contract are much like the requirements for any valid contract. A valid agreement will be comprehensive to avoid dispute relating to an aspect of the couple's life together unaddressed by the contract. Some of the aspects of the couple's life together a cohabitation agreement might cover include:
Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney
Two documents that may be used in place of, or in addition to, a cohabitation agreement are wills and durable powers of attorney. These documents, like a cohabitation agreement, can help ensure that the individual's wishes are carried out in the event that they die or become incapacitated.
Wills direct how a person's estate will be distributed after they die. This is important because an unmarried partner is usually not entitled to anything at all under the laws of intestate succession that control how property is inherited when someone dies without a will.
Durable powers of attorney allow someone to act and make decisions on your behalf if you become legally incompetent to manage your own affairs through illness or accident. Unmarried partners typically have no right to decide important health or financial matters in such situations without a power of attorney.