The Legal Considerations

Here are experts’ views on some of the financial and legal implications of living together.

The Pros

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 22, 1994 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday August 22, 1994 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 2 Column 3 View Desk 3 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
Benefits--A box accompanying an article about middle-aged couples who live together (Life & Style, Aug. 15) misstated the impact of marriage on Social Security benefits. An individual’s monthly benefit, which is based on lifetime earnings, usually remains the same in the event of marriage, says a representative of the Social Security Administration in San Francisco. Supplemental Security Income, a federal program based on need for individuals 65 or older or disabled, usually decreases in the event of marriage.

* “Marriage penalty”: Two individuals who each earn $40,000 a year pay $1,321 less in federal tax than a married couple earning a combined $80,000 and filing jointly, said Albert Golbert, an attorney in Los Angeles with Golbert, Kimmal and Weiner who specializes in taxation.

* Social Security: Benefits are higher for two individuals than for a married couple.


The Cons

* Assets: If an unmarried couple breaks up, California’s community property laws do not apply to the splitting of assets. One partner could end up with nothing, yet have contributed half, said Joan Patsy Ostroy, an attorney in West Los Angeles who specializes in family law. So any assets the couple buys together should have both names on the title.

* Support: A partner is entitled to support after a breakup only if such an agreement is put in writing. “It’s hard to prove oral agreements,” Ostroy said.

* Estate taxes: A married couple is entitled to make greater use of estate- and gift-tax exemptions than unmarried partners. When a husband or wife dies, the surviving spouse can inherit his or her half of the estate tax-free. The widow or widower can then pass on $1.2 million tax-free to children or other beneficiaries. A survivor in a live-in relationship does not automatically receive a tax-free inheritance and is entitled to only the standard $600,000 estate-tax exemption, half that afforded a widow or widower.


* Social Security: An unmarried person whose domestic partner dies continues to collect only his or her own benefits. A widowed recipient collects a larger amount.