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Real estate ownership rights for same-sex couples

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – July 10, 2013 – Question: My partner and I are looking to buy our first house together, but Florida doesn’t recognize our marriage. Does the recent Supreme Court decision help us in terms of owning real estate? – Steve Answer: Not yet. It’s likely to be a while before the high court’s marriage ruling trickles down to real estate law. Typically, when a married couple buys a home, they do so as “Tenants by the Entireties,” which is a legal status of ownership that gives the spouses certain privileges. For example, when one spouse dies, the other automatically owns the property alone without any further action. While same-sex couples aren’t allowed to own property this way in most jurisdictions, including Florida, a similar bundle of rights can be created. I have long advised that unmarried couples buying property together enter into an agreement regarding the management of the house. That pact also should specify what happens to the home if the relationship sours. Same-sex couples should follow this advice as well. They can set up a trust agreement for the ownership of the house, and the details of the agreement can help decide what happens in the event of a split or death of a partner. Certain types of trusts can even provide for protection from creditors, if that’s an issue for you. So while the simplicity of Tenants by the Entireties ownership structure is not yet available to most same-sex couples, proper planning can give them the same legal protections. About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairperson of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University Paralegal Studies program. The information and materials in this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed. Nothing in this column is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.