A Cautionary Tale For Those Lovingly and Successfully Co-habitating...
Who Think They’ve Protected Themselves, Each Other and Their Beneficiaries:
A close older friend wrote asking my opinion on whether or not she and her partner should marry after 7 happy years of living together. Both had been previously married; both have adult children and each have individual investments and property. She was a bit surprised at his very recent proposal because they had discussed marriage at other times and had decided against it. As I and many often do before making major decisions, she’d compiled her private list of pros and cons and said she just couldn’t decide. Of course, only she can make her decision and I assured her that I have every confidence that she will make the one best for her.
However, because of a few other things she shared, I wrote the following response to her and thought it might in some way, perhaps, give others in a similar situation some additional things to consider.
My best friend of over 30 yrs passed away in June. When her beloved moved into her home, he kept his out-of-state residence and continued to lease it.
Although they chose not to marry, they were wise in making co-habitating decisions from the outset. They set up a joint bank account and also kept separate, certain individual accounts, investments and properties. They created wills and estate plans which clearly spelled out their wishes for funerals, distributions, and inheritances and became a heart warming model of compatibility and mutual respect and generosity to others during their over 20 yrs of co-habitation. He has 5 supportive, loving children; she had one daughter who created pure hell and bedlam during her mom’s final long illness and afterwards.
One huge mistake they made was in Not sending notarized, certified copies of their wills and estate plans to the children appointed executors. Instead of safely storing those along with other very important legal, investment, deed documents, receipts, and expenditure records in a bank deposit box, they stored those along with cash, expensive jewelry and a large coin collection in their home safe which my friend’s only daughter accessed and removed.
She not only destroyed her mom’s most current will (the atty who drew the wills had died years before and any set he would have had was lost) but she additionally disrespected & defied her mom’s final wishes about burial, instead, cremating her mom and taking the ashes with her after a horrendously destructive 5 month reign of disruption, needless pain and anguish to both my friend, her guy, and the medical team, investment groups, banks, and others as she directed the lives of all concerned while in her mom’s house.
She used a much earlier will, made before my friend and partner had even met, for probate. Upon consultations with an atty., the effort to establish common law in our state will be lengthy, expensive and her partner is deciding that at his advanced age, not worth the stress, delays and open war it would create once the daughter, now back in Denver, learned of any legal pursuit.
The latter will spelled out clearly that the partner could live as long as he wished in my friend’s current home at will and at the time he chose to leave or at his death, that residence would revert to the daughter. It also provided specific investments be inherited by the daughter’s two children along with other charitable provisions. Had they created joint ownership of that residence and safeguarded what they had mutually agreed to, listed each other as primary beneficiaries on some investments and life ins. policies, etc., subsequent events would have been quite different.
Immediately following my friend’s death, her daughter presented the partner with a very complex house lease agreement with many strings attached. Still overcome and exhausted with grief, he signed the lease agreement.
It was a surprise for me to discover in learning more about filing for Common Law Marriage that in our state of Texas, a co-habitating couple can sign a legal affidavit at the courthouse which can be upheld with the same legality as a marriage certificate. Who would think to explore this or even to carry it out when thinking they’ve protected themselves and one another for the future? Granted my friends were both naive in many matters both financial and medical; however, so much resulting distress and grief could have been avoided if only……
I share this to impress on others who are co-habitating happily and thinking that they have covered the bases for future inheritances, partner protections and distributions, etc. to be sure to safeguard your individual and joint holdings legally and with proof.
My hope is that if one other couple or family can benefit from this sharing, it will eliminate future pain. Certainly not a happy holiday topic but one worth considering.
However you choose to spend the holidays, I wish you safety, peace, health and good will.