Or it certainly should be. There was so much for us to consider when we bought our house together twelve years ago. Not just the legal side of the actual house purchase but we weren’t married at that point so we had to consider what we do, heaven forbid, we split up. Not something anybody ever really wants to consider when moving in together for the first time, I grant you, but had three kids to think about. Mr B and I had both just come out of divorces and were, we think rightly, cautious.
We had done the thing with divorce lawyers and whilst neither of us really wanted to spend any time with a family lawyer in London we felt it would be in all interests if we did. So many scenarios to run through, what happened if we split, what happened if one of us died? Particularly if that person was me. Leaving Mr B as “not recognised by the law” as step father in a house with my three kids. Technically he could have kicked them out. Or he could let them stay but find someone else who would then have a claim to my 50% stake and leave my kids with no inheritance.
We both knew those things were never going to happen in reality, but as I say we were cautious, still smarting from our divorces and keen to show each other that we wanted to do the right thing. Mr B says he knew at that point we were going to get married anyway even though we bought the house six months before he proposed but doing things properly is very much his approach to everything in life so we made an appointment with a family lawyer so we could get some advice.
I guess it is the same approach that the mega rich have to drawing up a pre nuptial agreement. It isn’t particularly romantic, and I am not sure at what point of the wedding planning somebody says “I think we need to discuss our splitting up” but it makes sense. I am not ruling it out had we been in those leagues to be honest, but we didn’t really have anything other than the house we were moving into so it wasn’t a conversation we needed to have.
But we did need to have a conversation about the difference between our being “Joint tenants” for the mortgage, or “tenants in common” as both have very different outcomes in the event of a death of one of us.
In a nutshell we went for the Joint Tenancy as it meant that each of us owned the whole house and neither of us had a specific or identifiable share. If we were to sell the property, we would each been entitled to half the sale proceeds, it didn’t matter how much of the purchase price or to the mortgage repayments. Equally neither of us had a separate share in the property that could have been sold. If I had died then my share of the house would have passed to Mr B, not my children, and whilst our solicitor really made sure we understood this point, it was the right decision for us to make. It meant Mr B would own the whole house but because I knew he was a decent person I knew this wouldn’t make my kids homeless.
I also knew he would have my parents to contend with (and that I would haunt him from the grave so it was all good).
The other option would have been to draw up a “tenants in common” Agreement. We would have then each owned a separate share in the property and I would have been entitled to leave my share to my chosen beneficiaries (my children, or my parents) in my Will, and Bruce could have chosen his own beneficiary. It is often the more appropriate approach for people who have children from a previous marriage as they can guarantee that their children will benefit from their estate when they die, but as I say, I knew the other Agreement was the better one for our situation.
But up until that point neither option was something I had even considered. And whilst we didn’t need it, and then two years later we were married, it could have been the most shrewd investment we had ever made.