Eight states in the U.S. observe community property laws for married couples. These laws apply to those who are legally married. Unmarried partners, however, may own property and cohabit. Because of this, there are forms of ownership that dictate how the property is owned. For unmarried couples in this situation, it is important to keep excellent records and understand the specific ownership rights of your property.
Community Property Laws
Community property laws state that while in a marriage both spouses equally own all assets acquired during the marriage. Assets can be homes, property, vehicles and many other items. Additionally, debt, in the form of mortgage loans, car loans and credit cards, acquired during the marriage is shared equally between the two partners. However, if any of these assets or debts were acquired before marriage, they do not become part of the community property. In community property states, the community property law will divide these assets half and half in the event of a divorce. Community property laws only apply to married couples in the following states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Wisconsin and Washington.
Unmarried people can purchase property together. When the deed for the property is executed, the manner in which the owners will hold title should be listed after their names. This is often referred to as vesting. There are a few different vesting types that are generally recognized across the U.S. Vesting is used to determine the ownership percentage and how an owner's interest in the property will be transferred if they die.
Joint tenants and tenants in common are most often used as forms of vesting. Joint tenants implies that the property is owned equally by both parties. Additionally, joint tenancy involves rights of survivorship. If one owner dies, the surviving owner automatically takes the deceased's share of the property. Rights of survivorship supersede probate and inheritance laws. If a property is owned as tenants in common, both owners have a specific share. This could be selected at 50 percent and 50 percent, or another percentage. Upon an owner's death, the survivor will not automatically be granted full property ownership. The deceased's share will be divided and distributed following probate and inheritance laws.
Unmarried partners have a few options to deal with the division of property upon separation or death. The partners can draft a cohabitation agreement. This is similar to a prenuptial agreement and will state how the shared assets are to be divided if a separation occurs. Take into regard that a shared vesting on a deed will not affect ownership in a separation. To plan for death, a trust can be established naming the opposite partner as the beneficiary. Additionally, each partner should maintain a will if he wishes for his share of the property to go to someone other than the surviving partner.