If Partner Dies What Happens to House?

If Partner Dies What Happens to House?

In STATE-X, how do I take over house payments if partner dies, we're not married and my name is not on the deed?


Sorry but we cannot answer state specific questions, but hopefully we can give you some ideas of what you can discuss with a local lawyer.

First, the issue isn't house payments. If there is a mortgage on the house any lender will likely take and process the payments you make. The real issue is your right to the house if your partner dies. There are a host of ancillary issues as well. While some states have enacted domestic partnership or other laws that might help, most states have not. You may have few or no rights absent such laws and your meeting whatever requirements they have (e.g. registration). There are a host of steps you can take to protect your interest, but you will need to work these out with your partner and get local legal help. Also, you really should consider global issues -- the big picture, not just the house (what other issues may warrant attention will depend on your relationship, financial situation, and more).

  • Living Together Agreement. There can be advantages to each of you working out a detailed living together agreement that addresses your current status, what happens if either of you becomes disabled (ignored far too often), dies, or the relationship breaks up. Dealing in some practical detail with these issues while the relationship is positive and strong is the optimal time to do so. You should each have independent legal representation to help assure the maximum amount of respect and credibility for the agreement. How effective the agreement will be might also depend on your state's laws.
  • Title/deed to the house. How the house is owned will affect your rights. It sounds like your partner owns the house in his/her name alone. That might be optimal for him/her if the relationship breaks up but may do little to assure your rights in the house if your partner dies. Worse, if your partner is disabled and a court appoints someone else to be in charge of his/her estate and person, or he/she has signed a durable power of attorney naming someone other than you, you could be out of luck. So how the house is owned is vital to address. There are other implications as well. Insurance matters will be different if you have no legal interest in the house. From a tax perspective if you are not in tile and you pay a mortgage you will not be able to deduct the interest or taxes since you are not liable on the mortgage (did you cosign) and you are not in the chain of title/ownership of the house. Hey, it can even be worse. If your partner owns the house and is liable on the mortgage, but lost his/her job, and you're making all payments, not only might you not get a tax deduction, but those payments of your partner's debts could be viewed by the IRS as taxable gifts. Ouch!
  • Powers of attorney. These are too often overlooked in planning for partners. Who have you/your partner named as agent?
  • Living trust. Your partner could have the house held in a living trust that would provide for your rights if he/she is disabled or dies before you. Even if there is a trust, having a comprehensive power of attorney (above) is still advisable.
  • A Plan.... like the Paul Simon song ....get a plan Stan.... you need to have a plan, not just documents. Even if your partner does everything possible to assure your access to the house, if you don't have the ability financially or otherwise to maintain and upkeep the house it will be for naught. If insurance is not property addressed, disability planned for as well as death, etc. any major gap, could be the unraveling of your goals.

So, there are lots of documents and planning issues. Get good financial, estate and real estate advisers and assure your plan works and then the documents appropriate to your plan, are prepared and signed.

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