So maybe marriage isn’t for you and your partner, at least not right now.
Maybe you’re waiting until Georgia legalizes same-sex-marriage so there’s less confusion. Maybe the financial negatives outweigh the positives. Or maybe you’re just not the marrying types.
Either way, the experts highly recommend getting a set of documents that will cover you and your partner for almost any of life’s little curveballs.
A BLUEPRINT FOR A BREAKUP?
Financial adviser Allen Shpigel is one of only hundreds of advisers to earn the ADPA designation ― Accredited Domestic Partnership Adviser.
“I got that last year because we’d seen increased numbers of domestic partners that we were helping,” he says. “I got it before the whole DOMA situation, so were really studying and seriously planning for this.”
Needless to say, Shpigel is a huge proponent of getting a domestic partnership agreement, which outlines in detail the contractual legal rights and responsibilities of each partner in the relationship.
Shpigel recommends getting two attorneys, one to represent each partner, and that you cover all financial scenarios that could arise in the relationship.
“Each partner discloses all financial information they have from investment accounts, cash, how much debt they have, their credit score, everything,” he says. “They bring up scenarios and say, ‘If we purchase a home, how will it be titled? If we have children, who will work and who will take care of the child?’ Child support, alimony, everything.”
The attorneys compile the documents and make sure it’s agreeable on all sides before everyone signs.
However, many couples are hesitant to file a domestic partnership agreement due to it being compared to another document with a poison name: the prenup.
“I traditionally have thought of that as a blueprint for a breakup and have been against it for that reason,” says Nathan Miller, 36, who has been with his partner Allen Hedrick, 47, for four years.
“You see prenups for celebrity couples and it just always seems like something where they’re already planning for a breakup,” he says.
But Miller says he’s coming around to the idea, partly because he’s a child of divorced parents and says he doesn’t want to repeat that cycle.
Shpigel continues to be an advocate for the domestic partnership agreement, mainly because he’s seen the horror stories.
“There was a couple who were together for 17 years and they did not have this document and lost $1.5 million in the separation,” he says.
He offers up another situation where a couple that had been together for three years but one of the partners had a joint real estate piece with his ex-partner.
“Even though he’s not in the relationship, he’s still paying part of the mortgage because they didn’t have any documents ahead of time describing what would happen if they broke up,” Shpigel says.
Now his client is suing his ex-partner for not taking over the entire mortgage even though his ex-partner is still living in the same house.
“If they had the DPA, all of this could have been avoided,” Shpigel says.
He understands why people aren’t so receptive to filing a domestic partnership agreement, just as many people are opposed to prenuptial agreements.
“But it will really help you later on. Or they just don’t think they’ll separate, and the other reason is the money it takes to hire an attorney and put legal documents together,” Shpigel says. “But it can save you thousands if not millions, depending on your level of assets, in the future.”
‘WE’VE BEEN MEANING TO GET AROUND TO IT’
Certified tax professional Lynn Pasqualetti and her partner have been together for 30 years, so they know how to do everything possible to protect themselves without the benefit of being legally married. Despite the option to do so, they’re holding off.
“We’re waiting to see what Georgia’s going to do just because of the complexity of it,” Pasqualetti says. “But I love the idea of being able to do it.”
However, they take a very pragmatic approach to it. She says it would probably benefit them to get married, specifically for Social Security transfer of benefits upon death. But their children are grown so they have no dependent children.
“We did everything because we couldn’t get married, including cross-adopting our children,” she says. “There are just too many unknowns.”
Pasqualetti recommends that you have a healthcare directive (or living will) as well, which specify what actions should be taken for you or your partner’s health should either no longer be able to make your own decisions because of illness or incapacity.
“So if you have financial or medical issues, the person you love and live with can make those decisions with or for you,” she says. Stacey L’Hoste and her longtime partner got a civil union in Hawaii in 1999 and went to an attorney in 2004 to get a power of attorney over healthcare and power of attorney over their finances.
“If something happened to one of us health-wise, we didn’t want the hospital to say that one of us couldn’t come in since we’re not legally married, that that’s only for family,” she says.
“So the power of attorney over healthcare gives her the right to come and make the decisions when to pull the plug,” L’Hoste says. “And if either of us is incapacitated for financial reasons, the other would be able to make those decisions. It’s to protect our rights.”
It’s something Miller and his partner have been lagging behind on.
“We’ve been meaning to get around to it. I understand that it’s important,” he says. “We do have each other listed as beneficiaries on our 401Ks. We haven’t done the healthcare power of attorney, and we need to do wills. We’re slow getting around to it. That is scary, especially because I travel for work all the time.”