A major concern for most unmarried couples is how they share ownership of property (car, house, furniture, and the like) and assets, and how they share income and expenses. You have several options. You can keep the property that each of you owned before your agreement separate or you can share it. You can transfer ownership of none, some, or all property to your partner. You can agree to split income and expenses in many different ways, some equal, some not. You can keep separate bank and checking accounts, credit cards, and insurance, or create joint accounts. You can decide in advance who gets what should you separate, or agree to a process for resolving any disputes that come up should you separate.
Some kind of living together agreement--in this, case a property agreement-- can cover all these bases. This article discusses how to prepare an Agreement to Keep Property Separate and includes a sample form you can use as a model in preparing your own.
Other articles in this section cover different types of property agreements, such as an Agreement to Share Property.
How to Prepare an Agreement to Keep Property Separate
Especially in the first year or two after they get together, many unmarried couples keep all or most of their money and property separate—with the occasional exception of a joint account to pay household bills or an agreement to purchase one or more items jointly.
You may think that keeping your property ownership separate is so simple that you don’t need a written agreement. Think again. Because most states recognize oral contracts between unmarried couples, the lack of a written agreement can be an invitation for one partner to later claim the existence of an oral property-sharing agreement. This is what commonly occurs in the so-called palimony cases that regularly hit the headlines.
To avoid the possibility of future misunderstandings concerning property ownership, use the sample Agreement to Keep Property Separate form included here as a model when preparing your own. This agreement basically says that each of you plan to keep your property and income separate unless you make a specific written agreement otherwise. This agreement keeps all of yousr property separate, including property you brought into the relationship as well as property you purchased with your own money or received by gift or inheritance while living together.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re preparing an agreement to keep your property separate.
- Attach a separate list of major items you own to the agreement. such as the sample Separately Owned Property form shown here, listing the personal property each of you owns. You should be very specific—at least list all items worth $100 or more. Be sure to update your list from time to time—once a year is a good period. This type of property inventory will also come in very handy for insurance purposes should your property be stolen or damaged in a fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
- If you're in a domestic partnership program that makes you responsible for each other’s basic living expenses, include language (such as Clause 4 of the sample agreement) that says that you agree to only the minimal level of reciprocal financial responsibility. Registering as domestic partners may imply that you intend to share ownership of property unless you include this type of disclaimer. Of course, if no domestic partnership programs are available to you or you do not intend to register as domestic partners, you can delete this sentence of Clause 4.
- Clause 6 of this sample agreement refers to a joint ownership agreement that you may prepare from time to time—for example, if you purchase a television or computer together. There’s a sample Agreement for a Joint Purchase included here that you can use for this purpose. It covers issues such as what happens to the jointly owned property if you separate.
How to Edit and Sign Your Agreement to Keep Property Separate
See our tips for writing a living together agreement before preparing your own property agreement. While you can use the sample Agreement to Keep Property Separate form included here, make sure it fits your particular situation--and that you edit, delete. and add clauses as appropriate. Make two copies of the final draft (including all attachments) so that you and your partner each have a copy.
Sign and date both copies of your agreement. It makes no difference who keeps which—both are “originals.”
Keep your copy in a safe place, along with other important documents, such as insurance papers, title slips to jointly held property, leases, copies of wills, important financial papers, and the like.
Notarization is optional. Usually, having your agreement notarized isn’t necessary. However, in some states you must notarize the agreement if it covers issues affecting real estate. If that is the case, sign the agreement before a notary. Then if you wish, you can record the agreement at your county records office. Notarization doesn’t make a contract legal or enforceable. It simply proves that your signatures aren’t forged, which can never hurt.