Long-Term Relationships: Securing Your Future

By | Published On: January 26, 2021

Pandemic, economic recession, insurrection, what next?

Here’s something to think about and then take action to secure your future:

I recently received calls from several people who have been in relationships with “partners” for years. In each case, the “partner” was still married to someone else after many years (and, in some cases, decades) of being estranged from their spouses. One caller had a grown child with her partner. Another caller informed me that her partner, and her partner’s estranged spouse still jointly owned the real property in which the caller and her partner resided. Each caller faced a similar problem: When his/her partner died, everything was thrown into turmoil.

We all procrastinate for different reasons including putting off that which is difficult and unpleasant. Although it may be human nature, ignoring something does not make the issue go away, and in fact, tends to exacerbate the problem. Many people (wrongly) assume that they are protected in the event something untoward happens in a long-term committed relationship. The fact is, if you are not married or in a domestic partnership recognized under law, you are exposed. You may not find out just how vulnerable you are until the worst possible moment.

If you are in a long-term relationship but not married to your partner, you must get smart and take steps to protect yourself – just like you do by having health, home and car insurance to protect against the unexpected. For example, you may be living with a romantic partner in a property that is not yours (i.e., you are not on the title to the property). Sure, you are getting benefits (living in a nice place, maybe more than you could otherwise afford, and with someone, you love) but, if you are not on the title, you are also missing out on the investment and appreciation as it increases in value. And, if your partner is still married, his or her spouse could come (even if you have been contributing for many years) and take the appreciated value away from you, or even require that you vacate the property since you have no protections – contractual or legal.

So how do you proactively take care of yourself and plan for your future? As a first step, you need to raise the issue as a concern with your partner. You need to understand why he/she is still in this situation. There could be very good reasons (health insurance for one) why someone stays married, but you need to understand them and consider options to protect yourself as well. While it may not be an easy conversation, you need to ask hard questions. For example: Honey, it has been five years since you and your wife separated, why are you not moving to get things resolved with her? What does that mean for me and my efforts and mutual support for you? Or, if you and your partner are not married, questions to consider asking are how long are you going to “split” the costs but get none of the upsides from the appreciation in the housing market or investing in your own home? What happens if your partner is still married and dies? What has he/she provided for you in a will? Is your investment in your home and other assets protected?

There are a plethora of options for taking care of your loved ones and ensuring you are protected in the event of the unexpected – including providing life insurance, entering into written contracts detailing what happens in the event of separation or death, designating one another as beneficiaries on certain accounts or providing for each other in your respective wills. Thinking about these issues thoughtfully and constructively is critical to protecting yourself.