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  • Michael J. Greenberg

Committed Unmarried Partners




A few weeks ago, we attended the “Wedding” of one of my wife’s close childhood friends. I put the word “Wedding” in quotation marks because the ceremony did not include a legal marriage. After getting engaged, the couple did research and identified that, as two high-income earners (and one spouse being a non-US citizen), there would be a substantial tax penalty for getting legally married. While they want to be committed to each other forever, they chose to forgo marriage and instead chose to accomplish this through several legal documents.


The officiant discussed contracts as the theme of the weekend and how contracts can be romantic. In fact, most Jewish couples, myself included, have a decorative Ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, and hang it in their homes. All of which is to say: you don’t have to eschew legal documents to maintain romance. Signing the contract can be what makes the relationship and commitment real.


Perhaps you are in a committed partnership but marriage isn’t the right decision right now. Maybe you are both high earners, like our friends. Perhaps you have existing benefits, such as Medicaid eligibility or Survivor Benefits from Social Security, that you don’t want to forfeit. Maybe you want to be sure that your wealth transfers to your children (New York State’s “Right of Election” provides the surviving spouse the right to claim one-third of the estate value).


What legal documents might you want to execute now that you have committed to a life with your partner?


Health care proxy - A health care proxy lets you decide who should make decisions for you if you are incapable of speaking for yourself. Without a health care proxy or domestic partnership, other family members could be prioritized over your partner for making these important medical decisions.


Power of attorney - Having a power of attorney allows your loved one the right to sign for you and act as your Agent in financial matters, such as accessing your bank account to pay bills or selling your home. These become more relevant in the case of incapacitation or dementia.


Cohabitation agreement - Many people are unfamiliar with a cohabitation agreement. They have become increasingly popular recently and can act very much like a pre-nuptial agreement (except a pre-nup only is triggered to act after a legal marriage while a cohabitation does not require one). A cohabitation agreement can include expectations during the relationship (who contributes what to household finances) as well as terms if the relationship were to end (such as which party has to leave the shared residence or whether one party would need to pay “palimony”, or support similar to alimony).


Will - Make sure to update your will to reflect your wishes. It could be giving everything to your partner whereas by law it would go to your parents or siblings. Or, it could be setting up a living/revocable trust to care for your partner until the end of his or her life and the remainder goes to your children from a prior marriage.


All of these vehicles will give you peace of mind knowing that your preferences will be legally protected and honored.


Wishing you all an enjoyable summer – and my wife a happy 10th anniversary this July!


Out in the Community


July 31st Social Worker CEU


On July 31st at 5:30 PM, Michael will present “Discussing Love & Marriage Later in Life,” a social work CEU course sponsored by RiverSpring Living and CarePatrol. The seminar will take place on the campus of Hebrew Home at Riverdale (RiverWalk Senior Apartments), 5962 Riverdale Avenue in Riverdale. Light dinner served. Social workers RSVP HERE.



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