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3 things all cohabiting couples should discuss

Cohabitation has become increasingly common for a number of reasons, including the changing concept of what it means to be in a relationship with someone and the vanishing social stigma against it.

However, many cohabiting couples don't fully understand their rights -- or what rights they lack in the event that something unexpected happens. Here are some of the most important things that cohabiting couples need to discuss together in order to take steps to protect each other:

1. Property rights

If you plan on buying a condo or a home together -- or even renting an apartment -- it's important to make sure that you and your partner both have property rights.

A joint tenancy with survivorship rights or tenancy in common could be right for your needs if you're purchasing property, although they do different things. Make sure that you fully understand the deed you use before you enter into an agreement.

If you are renting together, make sure that both names are on the lease. Otherwise, one of you could lack important rights when dealing with the landlord or in a situation where the relationship has broken down.

2. Distribution of assets

Deciding how tightly you want your finances to be entwined is an important part of cohabitation. If you don't want to give your partner full access to your bank account or other assets, you can designate your partner as a beneficiary in the event that you die. That could offer your partner significant financial stability in a troubled time.

3. Health and financial emergencies

Without the right powers of attorney, you and your partner could be in a terrible spot if one of you becomes incapacitated. A financial power of attorney would give you each the ability to manage the other person's bills and access the other's bank accounts while that person is temporarily incapacitated. A medical power of attorney could give you the ability to make medical decisions for each other in an emergency.

Along with these documents, it's important to put your final wishes in writing. A will is another legal tool that unmarried couples can use to protect each other's future.

Marriage isn't right for everyone -- but legal protections are always a necessity for those you love. Talk to a family law attorney about the types of cohabitation agreements you and your partner should have in place.

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