Getting Married After Living Together

Should you change ownership terms of real property


The traditional or old-fashioned way of courting, getting engaged, getting married, and THEN buying a home and living together has largely yielded to modern society’s free spirited living.

Because of this ongoing trend of “testing the waters” before making a commitment through marriage or just not intending to get married at all, more and more unmarried couples are purchasing homes. Of course, it’s perfectly fine to share in the purchase of a home considering the high cost of living and the unstable economy and many would likely say that is precisely why they decided to live together, so that the couple could enjoy the benefits of home ownership without unnecessary strings attached.

However, in many cases, the subject of marriage is still looming and for whatever reasons, couples do get married. Therefore, depending on what kind of ownership interest you each have in the home, some changes may need to be made to ensure that the surviving spouse receives automatic ownership of the entire home and not just a one half interest.

For example, let’s say an unmarried couple purchases a home as a tenancy in common. This means that each person has a one half interest in the property. If one of them should die, the surviving owner only has an ownership interest in half of the property and the deceased owner’s one half interest will pass to his/her heirs at law or to a designated beneficiary.

Even if the couple subsequently marries, the tenancy in common stays in effect unless a new deed is recorded. Therefore, the surviving spouse would not be entitled to receive the deceased spouse’s one half ownership interest, which could cause some problems in the family unless both halves are sold or some other arrangements are made.

An unmarried couple may have been advised at the outset to get a joint tenancy, which is essentially the same thing as a tenancy in common unless you include a very important phrase, “with right of survivorship”. If the unmarried couple has correctly recorded a joint tenancy deed with right of survivorship and subsequently gets married, this deed would have the same effect as a tenancy by the entirety.

A tenancy by the entirety is the type of deed that is automatically recorded for a married couple that purchases a home. In this case, the surviving spouse would automatically receive the deceased spouse’s one half interest and also qualify for the marital deduction.

Unmarried couples living together who are considering marriage should consider revising their deed or purchasing a new home as husband and wife.

Information contained in this article is not intended to be legal advice nor applicable to all situations. For legal assistance, contact an attorney in your state of residence. You can visit Arleen’s website at arleenrichards-law.info.



  • maritov

    I don’t think this article paints an accurate picture of law in NJ (see N.J.S.A 46:3-17.2), much less other states. Joint tenancies with rights of survivorship are different in several ways from tenancies by the entirety, and some states no longer make tenancies by the entirety the default. Indeed, in the State of Rhode Island, the default tenancy when two people acquire property is a tenancy in common, “whether they be husband and wife or otherwise” (R.I.G.L. § 34-3-1).


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