If you are part of a couple that’s not married (“nontraditional”), you already are aware that you are not fully covered by federal or state laws designed to make financial transactions easy between husband and wife. You are probably already angry about the discrimination you face because your government has decided that your relationship isn’t as worthy of protection and respect. So while you should probably start lobbying for changes in the laws, you have to deal with the reality that you face today.
The first thing to note is that you are affected by both federal and state laws. The second thing to note is that state laws are very, very different in different states. Many states today actually offer a lot of protection for nontraditional couples, and you can expect fair treatment on things like inheritance, beneficiary of insurance policies and pensions, and joint ownership of a home. Other states are not giving an inch on those matters.
This article can’t possibly cover even half of the issues that you will face. Instead, you should do the following. First, get free information about the laws in your state and in the federal government. Groups like Human Rights Campaign have great information on this material – and even though Human Rights Campaign is oriented towards gay couples, the rules also apply to unmarried folks who are living together. Second, you should buy a financial planning book aimed at nontraditional couples. The book is important because it covers the laws, but more importantly, it raises the issues that you have to consider as part of your financial future, but which maybe you didn’t think about as “financial” matters. These can include things like disability insurance, hospital visitation and do-not-rescusitate orders, joint ownership of a home or other property that would be inherited on the death of one person, or who is the beneficiary of a pension. For married couples, the law assumes that the spouse gets all of this stuff…but the law doesn’t necessarily assume it for nontraditional couples. You need to think about each of these issues and to start writing clear plans about what you want to do, so that courts (and your relatives) don’t thwart your preferences.
Finally, it would be a pretty good idea to hire a financial advisor who specializes in nontraditional couples, and get some basic advice. You might need to spend $1000 to $2000, but it’s worth it, both in terms of dollars and sense, and peace of mind.