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Married or cohabiting? Here's how to protect your future

| Financial services

New relationships can be joyful and life-affirming, but whether you plan to get married, have a civil partnership or simply cohabit protecting your future isn’t unromantic – it’s essential.

Many people want to share the adventure of life with someone and whether you’re in your mid-twenties or your seventies, new relationships can be joyful and life-affirming. They can also come with new challenges, perhaps even more so in later life.

When taking big steps, older people often have children, grandchildren, in-laws and stepfamilies to consider, alongside other responsibilities. Property, savings, and investments are part of the picture too. Blending two lives can be complicated, and important matters can be easily overlooked when making plans for a new future.

So, while you should embrace and enjoy every moment of a new relationship, it’s also sensible to enter it with eyes wide open. Talking through what you each have, how you want to share or combine any assets, and what might happen if things don’t work out, can make things easier further down the line.

Cohabiting: choosing to live together

Rather than getting married you might choose to simply live together to enjoy the companionship and steady relationship that cohabitation gives. This could involve moving into your partner’s house and paying towards its mortgage and upkeep – and perhaps selling an existing property.

But living together doesn’t give you legal rights. That means if you later separate, you won’t have an automatic claim on the property and anything you’ve contributed may be ignored.

To avoid unnecessary upset or difficulties, you may want to consider setting up a cohabitation agreement.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

This is a formal agreement between people who choose to live together and can be used by romantic partners or even just friends sharing a home. Entering into a cohabitation (living together) agreement, can cover:

● who pays what share of the rent, mortgage or bills
● what happens if you were to split up or move out
● who owns what – particularly if you want to protect specific assets

A cohabitation agreement can make untangling things a lot easier should you split up. It can protect you and the things you want to pass on to your own family. This needs to be drawn up by a lawyer.

Making a Will

It is important, too, to make or update your Will and get your partner to do the same. If you’re not married, you have few rights if your partner passes away and that can lead to a lot of unnecessary heartache and expense.

Some people rely on verbal agreements and a promise by one partner that the other will inherit something or get to stay in the home after they’ve gone. Unfortunately, without an up to date Will, those wishes may not be fulfilled. This is especially true if there is no Will at all (‘intestate’) where a person’s assets are distributed to their nearest blood relatives in strict order. It’s not unusual for someone to lose their home in these circumstances, which is especially tough after a bereavement.

Making Wills can protect the interests of both partners and can be done quickly and easily with the help of a family law specialist. Age Co offers Will-writing through our Legal Services range provided by Irwin Mitchell.

Thinking of getting married again?

Of course, many couples do prefer to marry, sometimes for the second or third time, or make a civil partnership. As well as the emotional commitment, both types of partnership create a far more solid legal foundation around rights and responsibilities.

For some couples that in itself can be an issue. Older couples often have complex assets – such as second homes, businesses, pensions and investments – and these can be more difficult to untangle. If you later divorce, your spouse might have a claim on your money and assets, even those you want to pass on to your family, friends or children.

What is a prenuptial agreement?

A pre- or post-nuptial is an agreement between spouses that is drawn up by a lawyer and deals with the ownership of assets. A pre-nuptial is arranged before you get married versus a post-nuptial which is done afterwards, but they both help you to:

● avoid uncertainty and arguments over finances if your relationship ends
● protect money or assets that you have inherited and want to stay within your own family
● preserve assets for any children from a previous relationship

Again, it makes sense to write or update your Will at the same time so you can make sure your estate is planned as you want it.

Entering into a new relationship can be exciting and fulfilling, but taking practical steps to safeguard yourselves for whatever the future holds – is also a commitment to a mutually respectful, grown-up partnership.

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