If I Love Him/Her, What Difference Does Marriage Make?
In short, plenty. If a person chooses to live with another without benefit of marriage, each forfeits certain rights with respect to the partner both during his/her life and at his /her death. During life, a partner does not have the right to be appointed his/her guardian. The partner does not have the right to manage the other’s health care without a healthcare power of attorney naming the partner as the person who has the power to make health care decisions for him/her. Even if the partner is named, a blood relative can be appointed guardian and usurp the partners’ authority. Similarly, a partner does not have the right to manage his/her partner’s property without a financial power of attorney naming the other as the person who has the power to manager his/her property. Again, even if the other is named, a blood relative can be appointed guardian and usurp the named partner’s authority.
At death, unless a partner is named in the partner’s will, he/she will have no rights in the deceased partner’s property. The survivor will have no right to administer the deceased partner’s estate, and his/her family can toss the survivor out of the house he/she shared with the decedent but did not own. If the survivor has been foolish enough to sign debt for the decedent, death of the partner does not erase the signor’s debt obligation.
Attorney John C. Grundy sees these kinds of problems often in his practice. If John is talking to the surviving partner, it is too late to do much about the problems which arise. It is necessary to see John while both partners are alive in order to avoid these sorts of problems.
Unfortunately, it is little surprise that folks who choose to live together without benefit of marriage likewise are not responsible enough to have made arrangements for each other in the case of death or disability, so that when something happens to one of them the other is not only powerless but often loses property and is forced to live a place he or she may have called “home” for many years. Do not be that couple. Make an appointment to talk with John today.
Common Law Marriage Abolished
Common law marriage was abolished in Ohio in the early 1990s. As it was, establishing a common law marriage was difficult even when it was the law. For example, there never was a “seven-year” rule in Ohio. To demonstrate how difficult it was to prove a common law marriage, just two of the several requirements to establish a common law marriage were: a couple had to hold themselves out in the community as being married; and the couple had to have a reputation in the community as being married. Elements of proof included witnesses testifying they thought the couple was married; producing leases, utility bills, etc. with the “wife’s” last name the same as the “husband’s”; proof of joint accounts where the “wife” took the “husband’s” last name; and the like. These cases were not easy.
Marriage is, among other things, a legal relationship. Marriage creates obligations on each spouse, and bestows benefits on each spouse. Marriage is also contractual. Living together is typically neither. It is not uncommon to see folks in my practice (usually after the death of the first to die) who have not been married but have lived together where problems arise because the couple did not understand that living together does not create a legal relationship. An experience estate planning lawyer like John Grundy can explain the benefits of marriage, and can explain to a couple who want to live together but not get married how to protect themselves when one of them suffers an illness, injury, or passes away.
For example, suppose a man and woman live together for 25 years. House is in woman’s name and she dies. The woman leaves no will and has not made any other arrangements for the man to continue to live in the house. The family can put the man out of the house almost immediately after the woman’s death. If the man and woman have purchased furniture and furnishings together it will be virtually impossible for the man to prove what is his and he may end up losing everything. If the woman’s credit was poor and the man signed for a loan secured by a mortgage on the house, the man will remain personally liable on the loan until it is paid in full and he will have no leverage with the family because he has no ownership of the house. If the car was in the woman’s name, the man will also be left without transportation.
Do not be this couple. Call the John C. Grundy today and make an appointment to learn how to avoid these problems.
What Can Be Done?
A number of things can be done. John C. Grundy can advise you on the best course of action for you. The couple can get married. If there is a reason the couple is hesitant, perhaps the hesitancy can be overcome with a prenuptial agreement. The couple can enter into a contract called a “Cohabitation Agreement” where they set out the terms of what they agree to. They can establish a trust, wills, healthcare directives, durable powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents assuring that each can remain involved in the life and affairs of the other, and what property rights each will have after the death of the first to die.
John C. Grundy has the experience to help clients avoid the terrible effects of failing to plan for the eventual termination of cohabitation without benefit of marriage through illness, injury or death. Call today for an appointment.