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What unmarried couples should know about buying property together

Many Maryland couples choose to live together before getting married, and many opt never to marry. However, if they purchase property together, the division of that property can get complicated if they break up.

In some cases, one person owns the home where the couple resides, while the other person contributes to the mortgage payment and other household expenses. However, if the deed is in one person's name, the other one has no claim on the home unless he or she is able to prove that both paid for the home, made the mortgage payments and contributed to the maintenance costs. It's best to put that in writing. Otherwise, you may find yourself with nothing to show for your investment in the home.

You can purchase property as a couple as tenants-in-common or joint tenants. If you purchase it as tenants-in-common, each person owns a percentage of the property. For example, if one person has a considerably larger income, he or she may own 75 percent while the other owns 25 percent. If you purchase a property as joint tenants, the ownership is split 50/50.

When considering which of these options to use when purchasing a home, it's important to understand what happens to the property if one person dies. With joint tenancy, the surviving person gets full ownership of the home. If they are tenants-in-common, if one person dies, the other is not automatically entitled to his or her partner's share. It becomes part of the deceased person's estate. Of course, you can designate in your will that your partner gets your share of the home should you die.

This is just one more reason why it's essential for everyone to have a will and estate plan in place. If someone dies without a will, his or her estate is divided according to the "intestate" laws of the state. If a couple is in a long-term serious relationship but unmarried, they can both codify their wishes for how their assets and property will be distributed after their death and who will be responsible for handling their estate.

Sometimes, time flies by and before you know it, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend are in a long-term relationship. If that relationship includes the purchase of assets, particularly a home, together, it's essential to get some legal guidance to protect the interests of both of you.

Source: FindLaw, "Unmarried Couples and Property - Basics," accessed Aug. 06, 2015

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