It may have been unheard of in your parents’ generation, but boomers are increasingly moving in with each other without stopping off at the registry office en route. In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the number of unmarried couples aged 55 and over and living together was growing faster than the number of younger cohabitating couples (as reported in the recent Time article, “4 Rules for Shacking Up in Retirement” May 2016).


Living together in retirement can get complicated without the clear-cut rules set by a marriage contract. In order to secure the protections that are automatically afforded legal spouses, unmarried couples may want to think about preparing the following documents:

  • Healthcare power of attorney. If you were married, your spouse would automatically be your next of kin, and would therefore be able to make important medical decisions on your behalf, should something ever happen to you. A healthcare power of attorney would allow your live-in partner to make those potentially life-or-death decisions.
  • Estate planning documents. When one half of a married couple dies, the surviving spouse inherits the estate. Work with an estate-planning lawyer to make sure that your partner, your children and any other loved ones receive exactly what you intend for them to receive. It’s a good idea to let your family know what your plans are to avoid surprises or hurt feelings after your death.
  • Life estate. If you share a home with your partner that only he or she owns, you may want to ensure you’ll have the right to continue living there after your partner passes on. A life estate is a document that gives you the legal right to remain in your home for the rest of your life, after which the property will be passed on to your partner’s heirs.
  • Understand your pension and/or annuity plan. If you have a pension and/or annuity, you may be able to designate the continuation of payments to your partner after your death. Review your documents carefully to not only ensure that your current significant other is indeed the beneficiary, rather than an ex-spouse, but to make certain that you both understand exactly what the payments and terms will be. 


Unlike wedded couples, live-in partners can’t rely on spousal Social Security benefits to boost their retirement income, unless they are already collecting on a former spouse’s (ex or deceased) record. Couples often fill in this missing financial piece of the jigsaw with life insurance or increased savings. A recent NPR article, “For Couples Skipping The Ring, It Pays To Plot Out Finances” (April 2016), pointed out just how many little things unmarried couples must think about that aren’t a concern for married couples—even down to what happens in the event of a break-up: According to the article, unmarried couples should consider drafting a legal document, similar to a prenuptial agreement, to set terms about how to divide assets if the relationship ends. 


Before setting up house, decide together how you are going to handle the household finances: Will you open a joint account to which each person contributes equally? If one of you is still working and the other is retired, will you contribute to paying bills in proportion to your income? Will your partner regularly drive your car, and does he or she need to be listed on your car insurance? Planning how the two of you will navigate your lives together can not only help simplify both party’s finances, it may also have a positive effect on your relationship.

This material is for informational purposes only and the statements made above represent TIAA's interpretation of applicable law. It is presented with the understanding that TIAA (or its affiliates, distributors, employees, representatives and/or insurance agents) is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advice.