Should I Agree to Put My Partner/Fiancé on the House Deed?

Maybe you’re buying a new home. A home for you and your significant other to live in. Or maybe you already hold a deed, and are thinking of quitclaiming it from your name into both names: you, and your unmarried partner.

Perhaps your partner is paying a percentage of the housing costs, and would like a co-ownership arrangement. If so, maybe you’re asking yourself if you should both be named on the deed. As you aren’t married (or aren’t yet married), what about a potential breakup down the road?

Of course, that can happen in longtime marriages, too. Let’s walk through some common scenarios, and how they might play out.

Can I Name My Boyfriend on My Home’s Deed, While Protecting My Interests in This Home?

As a solo buyer, you landed a mortgage and a home. Congratulations!  

Now your boyfriend is moving in. You are considering using a quitclaim deed to title the home in both of your names.

If you do decide to create a shared deed, how will you protect your interests? It’s wise to take steps now, to avoid contentious fallout if you were ever to split up. Consult a family lawyer or a real estate lawyer to draft a detailed agreement that spells out the responsibilities you’ll share, how you’ll share them, and what you’ll both agree to do in the event of a relationship change:

  • How is the mortgage payment shared?
  • Who pays for what household budget items?
  • Who manages repairs?
  • Who keeps the home if you separate?
  • What if one or both of you wants to sell their interest? How will you divide the home’s value?
  • What happens with your share of the property value, if later invested into another home in both of your names?  

First things first. If there is a mortgage on the home, the company may simply not allow the loan to continue if the deed is transferred. Also, you’ll want to have your tax pro work out these questions with you.

If you go ahead and convey the deed to two names, you’ll need to go to a notary and sign the deed over, then record it. Keep reading for some information about creating a legal agreement between you, in addition to your new deed.

I Don’t Intend to Give My Partner a Legal Stake—I’m Simply Sharing My Home. That’s OK, Right?

That’s OK. If you want to plan for your partner to receive the home when you pass away, you can continue owning the home in your name, and leave the home to your partner in your will. This is an excellent option. If your life situations ever change, you’ll be able to revoke the will by writing a new one.

But whether you hold the deed as a solo owner or share it, it’s also OK — and wise on both of your parts! — to plan for potential changes down the road. A separate, written agreement, reviewed by a lawyer and signed by you both, seals your arrangement. With a binding agreement, you can hold a deed as separate property or even divide the property’s value into shares. And yes, this agreement stays in effect even if the home is in a community property state and you opt to marry later on.

Generally, if you live in a common-law state — not a community property state — a partner who’s not on the deed has no ownership rights. The home acquired by one life partner belongs solely to that individual, unless deeded to both.

People who separate from former partners can and do experience heavy losses because they felt awkward recruiting a lawyer to draft an agreement in writing. Yet the future can take many unexpected turns. You need a legal agreement created for the same reason you need a will. Good planning supports peace of mind. It can prevent the need for legal interventions later on. It’ll potentially spare you both from larger-scale family disagreements.

What’s That About Shares in the Property’s Value? Can I Keep a Greater Share of Ownership in Our Co-Owned Home?

Yes. State law usually assumes it’s a 50%-50% ownership when the home deed is in two names. As a general rule, that makes sense. But your own financial situations might be quite different. What each of you has invested could be unequal. If so, it could make better sense for you to own 60% of the home’s value or 85% or some other share.

If you want to own your home in unequal shares, you can deed the home as tenants in common. Unmarried partners tend to prefer this style of ownership. They can preserve their shares by stating each person’s ownership percentage on the deed.

Note that the tenants in common lack the automatic right to the property when of them dies. But each co-owner can leave their share through their will — to the co-owner, or to someone else.

Use a written agreement to provide for any reimbursements from one party to the other. Ask a lawyer for guidance in putting your agreed terms in writing.

What Have I Got to Lose? What Are the Advantages to Holding a Deed in One Name Only?

A sole holder of a deed has legal authority to sell or bequeath the property. Unless there’s a valid, binding agreement saying otherwise, or unless a court changes the deed holder’s status, no one else has those property rights.

Sometimes, a couple only names one deed holder as part of a financial strategy. For just a few examples:

  • Tax strategy. For various reasons, a tax or estate planning adviser could suggest that one person be on the deed as sole owner. For instance, a couple might name just one of the partners on the deed to allow the one with the higher earnings to benefit from home-related tax deductions.
  • Family ties. Maybe you bought the house before meeting your life partner, and want to keep the deed as separate property — perhaps with an eye to leaving the home to your child.
  • Debt protection. If one person is heavily in debt or vulnerable to lawsuits, sometimes a couple will leave that person off the deed. There is an established option for co-owning spouses in some states, known as tenancy by the entirety (TBE). TBE puts both people on the deed. When one dies, the other gets the whole home. Meanwhile, TBE keeps one spouse’s interest shielded from the individual debts of the other. If you are a same-sex co-owner, know that same-sex couples may vest the deed as tenants in common, as  joint tenants with survivorship rights, or, if they marry, as tenants by the entirety.
  • Mortgage approval. If one person’s credit profile won’t cut the mustard, the other might apply for the mortgage. So, one person alone might be named alone on the deed simply to get a mortgage approved.  

In any of these situations, a couple might later want to bring the second partner’s name onto their home’s title. Proceed with caution, because third parties also have contractual rights. Read on for more on this.

What If I’m on the Deed Alone and Later We Both Want to Change It to Co-Ownership?

Say you started off co-owning your home as tenants in common with unequal shares. Several years later, you’d prefer to vest survivorship rights in one another, so there are no questions about what might happen in probate.

First, check state law. As a sole deed holder, you might be able to legally switch your deed into co-ownership upon marriage. If you switch to co-ownership with survivorship rights, be sure to transfer a 100% interest into both names. Sign the new deed with a notary, and record it.

Californians have the interspousal grant deed form by which they can name both partners as co-owners.

You can create a deed that conveys your home, for example, from Minnie Pearl and Mickey Maus as Tenants in Common, to Minnie Pearl and Mickey Maus as Joint Tenants With Right of Survivorship.

If you take title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and one of the co-owners dies, the other automatically becomes the owner of the deceased person’s share — even if the will says otherwise.

Even if you purchase a home with unequal investments between you, if you agree to own the house equally from the start, this form of vesting your deed is appropriate.

Note: In some states, co-owners get no right to a reimbursement for the extra investment one might have made — unless the pair created a written agreement.

What Else Do I Need to Look Out For?

When you convey a deed into an additional owner’s name, check for transfer taxes and fees that may apply. And if you have a mortgage, discuss your plan with the company in advance. You won’t want to accidentally trigger a pay-in-full event.

If you have signed up for a homestead exemption on the home, call the state’s revenue department to find out if making a new deed will disturb that tax benefit.

Be sure you’re both named as beneficiaries on the homeowners’ insurance.

See a tax specialist who knows how to spot taxation issues for unmarried partners.  

One final reminder. This site is for general information only. It is not legal or financial advice. If you have any questions about taking title, be sure to consult with an experienced family law or estate planning attorney and create a separate legal agreement to set down your specific intentions! Paying a real estate lawyer to draft and review your document could be well worth it later on.

Supporting References’re Married. You’re Not on the House Title. What Are Your Rights? (Nov. 13, 2020).

And as linked.

More on: How to vest your deed, what to do before adding a spouse’s name to the title

Photo credits: Blue Bird and Josh Willink, via Pexels.