Massachusetts Law Does Not Recognize Common Law Marriages
Cohabitation Agreements in Massachusetts. There are a only handful of states (and DC) where common law marriages are recognized, and Massachusetts is not one of them. So for Massachusetts couples wanting to share their lives (and their living areas) with each other, but without entering into a formal marriage, the options are somewhat limited.
One of the best ways to define the contours of such a relationship is to enter into a cohabitation agreement.”
This will provide an understanding for both parties–as well as their legal heirs–about what is being brought into a relationship, and what will happen when the relationship comes to an end. It’s something like a prenuptial agreement, but without the nuptial part.
Spelling Out Your Wishes
Nobody wants to think about death very much. And yet the more a person has–in terms of both assets and tangible items–the more important it is to get this process rolling.
For instance, Prince recently died suddenly at the age of 57, which is the same age David Bowie was when he drew up his will. While neither man lived in Massachusetts or had a cohabitation agreement with someone else, Bowie planned for the future, while Prince did not.
Prince had a compound named Paisley Park, in suburban Minneapolis. The current status of Paisley Park itself is unknown, because Prince died without any directions about what should be done with it after his passing. Bowie, on the other hand, left a specific set of instructions that ensured an orderly transfer of his assets to the parties he chose.
Protect Your Property
Each of us has an equivalent of Paisley Park, whether we have a name for it or not. Perhaps someone else is moving into your personal property. If this is the case, whether or not they continue to live there after your passing should be set forth in writing. Likewise, if joint funds are used to purchase and/or furnish your property, the percentage of ownership by each party needs to be set forth in writing, and a cohabitation agreement is a recognized way to accomplish this.
The percentage of ownership of a property can either be split equally, as in a joint tenancy agreement, or unequally, in the case of a tenancy in common. Either way, an important step is to set forth a valuation procedure for the property itself. A cohabitation agreement can set forth an agreed-upon method for determining the property’s value, in the event that the property needs to be sold for liquidation purposes. Since a house or other living unit cannot be physically separated into component parts, there needs to be an agreed-upon procedure for determining what the value of the property is.
But not all relationships end with the death of one of the parties. Situations change, and the best time to anticipate this is before it happens, not after the fact. Cohabitation agreements can contain specific language regarding who owns what, both before the cohabitation begins, and after it, as well. To do otherwise is foolish, particularly where there are significant assets involved.
Elements to Consider
The rights of a person to inherit property from someone who dies intestate, or without a will, extend to those who are spouses, parents, children, or siblings of the deceased. If a marriage does not occur, though, a person will not be able to inherit from someone they are not related to by blood or by adoption. A trust agreement can be used for establishing these rights and a cohabitation agreement can also serve this purpose.
The proceeds of life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other financial assets must also be taken into consideration. A cohabitation agreement can set forth the wishes of one or both parties in this regard, and ensure that these items are disposed of in an orderly fashion. Conflicts are less likely to arise, and messy probate battles are more likely to be avoided, where both parties make it clear what their intentions are in advance.
Massachusetts Law requires Some Navigating
The seafaring traditions of the Bay State go back centuries, and a boat is a helpful metaphor for a cohabitation agreement. People who agree to bind their fortunes together should know what is to become of the boat once the journey is over. Who gets the boat, and how much it is worth to begin with, may not be good questions to settle after the voyage is underway. In fact, a squabble over these matters could very well prevent the smoothest possible sailing upon what can be some very rough waves. Reaching an agreement about these issues beforehand makes sense, and a cohabitation agreement gives both parties peace of mind for the journey, wherever it might ultimately lead them.
Contact one of our attorneys today to discuss the issues relating to cohabitation agreements to help you decide if entering into one is the right decision for you.