Do you own a house with your partner before marriage? Or do you plan to purchase real estate together one day? How is a JOINTLY owned home handled as it pertains to prenups? What about divorce? The answers to these questions can vary slightly state to state and depend on your specific situation, but generally, a prenup can simplify this for you. How? Well, by delineating ownership in a clear and concise way, predetermining how assets will be split in the event of a divorce (and also potentially death), and setting expectations between you and your partner.
Understanding joint property ownership
Joint property ownership refers to the legal arrangement where two or more individuals share ownership rights to a property. There are different types of joint property ownership, such as joint tenancy and tenancy in common. Which types are available and how they function can vary from state to state. Each type of joint property ownership has its unique implications and considerations, including the distribution of ownership, survivorship rights, and tax implications.
If you purchase a house with your partner, there are generally two main types of ownership available: joint tenancy and tenancy in common.
- Tenancy in common is when you own the percentage of the property that you put into it. So, if you put in 1/10th of the money and your partner put in the rest, then you own 1/10th and they own 9/10ths.
- Joint tenancy is when each partner owns half of the property, regardless of how much money they put in.
Introduction to prenuptial agreements
A prenuptial agreement, also known as a prenup or premarital agreement, is a legally binding contract entered into by a couple before their marriage. Its primary purpose is to establish the division of assets and liabilities in the event of divorce, separation, or death. Prenuptial agreements provide clarity and peace of mind by addressing various aspects of the couple’s financial relationship.
Key components of a prenuptial agreement typically include the identification and classification of assets, spousal support, property division, debt allocation, and any specific provisions related to real estate. By outlining these details in advance, couples can proactively manage potential conflicts and avoid disputes down the road.
On top of all that, prenups are also emotional contracts as they require in-depth communication between partners and alignment on certain life and financial goals in order to come to an agreement.
How prenuptial agreements simplify jointly owned property matters
Prenuptial agreements play a crucial role in simplifying real estate matters for couples. They can provide a clear framework for how much each partner owns in the real estate prior to marriage and outline that clearly in their financial disclosure section of their prenup. For example, let’s say you and your life partner of 15+ years purchased a home together years ago. You aren’t exactly sure who owns what, but getting a prenup will require you to figure out the exact percentage of ownership in financial disclosure. In other words, you are required to pull out those old financial documents or deed titles to put it in writing as to who owns what percentage of the home. This provides a clear and concise outline of who owns what, exactly.
Prenups also determine how to split up jointly owned property in the event of divorce, and sometimes death. You can make sure you and your partner are aligned on exactly how you want to treat that jointly owned property in the event of separation. Do you want to split it according to contribution or 50/50? What about if you die–do you want your portion of the property to go to your partner or to be passed through your estate? Answering these questions in a prenup can simplify any jointly owned property issues in the worst case scenarios.
Additionally, prenuptial agreements help clarify financial responsibilities (aka setting expectations between spouses). This can include mortgage payments, property taxes, and maintenance costs. By establishing financial obligations in advance, couples can avoid disagreements and ensure a fair distribution of expenses throughout the joint property ownership journey.
Legal considerations and enforceability of prenups
For a prenuptial agreement to be legally enforceable, it must meet certain state requirements. These requirements can be very different state to state, but typically involve putting the contract in writing, including signatures, notarization, financial disclosure, voluntary agreement by both parties, and absence of duress or fraud.
Examples of how to utilize a prenup to simplify joint property ownership
Meet Eric and Emily, they are engaged and ready to tie the knot. They know they want to get into the real estate biz and hope to one day own many properties. As responsible individuals, they recognized the need to protect their individual and joint assets and simplify real estate matters in case of any future uncertainties. That’s when they decided to get a prenup.
During their prenup talks, Eric and Emily openly discussed their financial aspirations and concerns. Eric, as the higher earner, was concerned that he would be making much more money than her and would contribute more (financially) to their future real estate purchases than Emily. Emily, on the other hand, worried that she would be putting in more sweat equity as an architect and designer who would help renovate and construct their real estate properties. They want to come to an agreement that is fair for both of them in the prenup. What should they do?!
For starters, they decided to outline what the roles and responsibilities are for each person as it pertains to real estate. Emily is responsible for much of the build and design of the homes and Eric will contribute slightly more monetarily. With that in mind, they agree that it would be fair to split the real estate assets 50/50, even though Emily is contributing less financially, she is including more sweat equity into the properties. They live happily ever after by reducing future conflicts over “who does what and who pays what” by getting in total alignment prior to the marriage.
In the end, Eric and Emily’s story highlights the power of prenuptial agreements in simplifying real estate matters for couples. By proactively addressing potential complexities, they not only protect their individual assets but also laid a foundation for a harmonious partnership in joint property ownership.
Remember, every couple’s situation is unique, and it’s essential to consult with a qualified attorney to understand the legal requirements and implications specific to your state’s laws.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about joint property ownership
Q: What happens to jointly owned real estate if a prenuptial agreement is not in place?
A: Without a prenuptial agreement, joint property ownership defaults to the laws of the state. This means that property division and ownership rights will be determined based on applicable laws, which may not align with the couple’s preferences.
Q: What about jointly owned property purchased before the marriage?
A: With a prenup, jointly owned property purchased before the marriage may be protected. Without a prenup, jointly owned property may be split up according to the state laws, which may or may not be a good outcome for you.
Q: Can we protect jointly owned property that is not yet purchased?
A: Yes, you can include property that you buy together in the future in a prenup!
Joint property ownership comes with its complexities, but prenuptial agreements simplify real estate matters for couples. They provide an outline for who owns what, a clear roadmap for what should happen to the real estate in the event of a divorce, and they set expectations between the couple as to any joint property matters. By addressing your joint property matters in a prenup, you can navigate your marriage with confidence and minimize the potential for conflicts.
Ms. Taylor earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Justice Studies from Arizona State University in 1995. She obtained her Juris Doctor degree in 2014 from Arizona Summit Law School. In 2018, after more than 20 years managing multimillion dollar construction and real estate contracts, Ms. Taylor retired from the City of Phoenix. In 2022, she was licensed to practice law in the State of New Mexico, as well as federal law (Immigrations, Bankruptcy, and Securities) in all 50 states. Attorney Taylor is a zealous advocate with more than a decade of experience working in Immigration, Bankruptcy, Real Estate, Social Security Disability, Estate Planning, Business Formation, Debt Settlement & Collections, Contracts, and Family Law. She is also a certified Mediator.