By Janet Groene, F47166
If your full-timing companion is not related to you by blood, marriage, or a legal arrangement such as adoption, you could be cruising toward trouble. There are many advantages to having a traveling partner, but things can unravel quickly if you break up or if one of you has financial, legal, or medical problems.
Picture these real-life scenarios:
· You don’t want to marry your boyfriend, because you’d lose your late husband’s $600-a-month pension. Your boyfriend’s health fails and he no longer can travel, so the coach must be sold. That’s when his family steps in, takes over, and suddenly you’re homeless.
· Your beloved partner is in a coma. His or her family, which disapproves of your relationship, shuts you out physically, financially, and emotionally.
· Your 18-year-old son is driving when the motorhome is in a minor traffic accident. The three of you have been living together as a family, but the insurance is in the name of your partner, who is not related to the boy.
· The coach is burglarized while you and your partner are out on the golf course and both of you lose some valuables. However, only your partner’s name is on the insurance policy, so when a lump sum settlement is paid, your partner defends his legal right to keep it all.
· Your partner dies before making out a new will. Everything, including the coach that you consider your home, goes to his or her family “” perhaps even to an ex-spouse “” leaving you out in the cold.
· You love your partner’s young children as if they were your own and you’re all full-timing as one happy family. Suddenly your partner dies and his or her family takes the children, the motorhome, the life insurance, and even the family cat.
· You and your oldest friend, who is a sorority sister and your chum since school days, decide to go full-timing together and share expenses. You own the motorhome; she owns the towed car. You plan to share ongoing expenses evenly, but you discover there are gray areas. Splitting the bill isn’t as clear-cut as you expected.
The good news is that domestic partner laws are becoming broader and more liberal each year. The bad news for full-timers is that these laws usually apply only to a state or even to a single municipality. For full-timers who travel often, the picture gets more complicated.
That’s why it’s important that you put a legal stamp on your relationship. It’s best to see a lawyer, but you can take some steps on your own with the help of Web sites such as www.nolo.com (view the section on Married & Living Together) or www.unmarried.org.
Begin by drafting your own will and urge your partner to do the same. Under state laws, married couples, children, and parents have an automatic place in the inheritance order if there is no will. As a coachmate, however, you do not receive or confer any rights to your partner until they are put in writing. Your will should cover property such as your half of the coach; monies, including your share of joint bank accounts; and other possessions, including the family dog. Your will also can indicate the person you want to raise your minor children.
You also need to designate durable power of attorney for health and finance to the person you want to take charge of your affairs should you become incapacitated. Keep in mind that your partner has no legal power unless you give it to him or her. Your relatives, even people you haven’t spoken to in years, could take charge if you don’t put your instructions in writing.
Finally, and this is very important, form a contract with your partner to cover everything else. Here’s where professional help from an attorney is especially important, because you can’t possibly remember to include everything. In a contract, spell out how you’ll divide up payments on the motorhome; who pays bills; who owns what percent of the common property; and whether one of you must make support payments to the other if you separate. The agreement, much like the prenuptial agreements popular with today’s brides and grooms, also should describe how disputes will be settled (arbitration, trial separation, counseling, an even split, etc.). However distasteful the wrangling may be when you create the contract, it’s nothing compared to how bitter and expensive things could get later. So, put it all in writing.
It’s easy to open joint bank accounts in both of your names; get vehicle and “homeowner” insurance as joint tenants; apply for health insurance under domestic partner laws in your “home” state or city or under the rules of the company you work for; open credit card accounts in both names; and name each other as beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement plans. It also may be wise to take out life insurance policies on each other.
A few things won’t change. You are both required to pay separate federal income taxes if you both have income (although a few states now allow domestic partners to file state income taxes jointly). Unlike married couples, you and your partner can’t profit from each other’s Social Security benefits. Nor can your sidekick be held responsible for your debts, unless you are registered as domestic partners. That could be a good thing compared to a marriage, in which you have built-in responsibilities as well as automatic rights.
The question is, how free do you really want to be? Think about it.
Our new Swobbit Quik Dry Water Blade is the thirstiest we’ve ever seen, with a new design that dries the shower with just a few swipes. The 12-inch silicone squeegee can be purchased separately or as part of the RV Cleaning Kit or Deluxe RV Cleaning Kit. Each kit contains an entire arsenal of tools for cleaning the outside of the coach, plus an expandable handle that attaches to the tools and lets you reach all the way to the top. Look for it from RV suppliers, in marine shops, or at www.swobbit.com; (800) 362-9873.
Books for travelers
The most beautiful coffee-table book of the year, which is sure to be a conversation starter in your RV, is the Smithsonian Book of National Wildlife Refuges ($39.95, Smithsonian Institution Press), written by Eric Jay Dolin with photography from John and Karen Hollingsworth. Visiting wildlife refuges is the perfect theme for a life of RV travel. This book can be used as a guide, a source of inspiration, and as a scrapbook of magnificent images that few of us could duplicate. The first national wildlife refuge ever designated “” Pelican Island in Florida “” was so proclaimed by President Theodore Roosevelt 100 years ago. The author does a beautiful job explaining why these refuges (administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) were created and their increasing importance as more wilderness area is developed. The book is not a guidebook, however, so you’ll need additional research to find and explore the 538 refuges. A good place to start is the America’s National Wildlife Refuge System Web site, http://refuges.fws.gov, where you’ll find general information about the system, refuge brochures, and much more.
Equally handsome books, but smaller and shelf-sized, are the Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides published by DK and priced at approximately $10 each. They’re heavy-duty paperbacks with a strong binding and durable, dust jacket-type covers. Detailed enough for the most sophisticated traveler, they are lavishly illustrated in color and filled with maps, color codes, and other aids that make it easy to find your way around, and to squeeze the most sight-seeing out of each travel experience. Long after the trip, you’ll use the books to show others fabulous photographs of places you saw. Look for them by their bold city titles including Boston; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Miami and the Keys; New York; Orlando; Washington, D.C.; and a long list of overseas cities. The Eyewitness series also includes language books filled with useful phrases should you travel to foreign countries.
The Insurance Dictionary ($12.95, Silver Lake Publishing) is a useful addition to the full-timer’s library, because it can help decipher almost any legal document or insurance policy. Do you have any “laser beam endorsements” that you’ll be sorry for in the future? In an accident, did you miss the “last clear chance”? How does “conditional” vesting affect your pension plan? One small volume packs lots of practical punch. The book can be found in bookstores, at online bookseller sites, and at (888) 663-3091.
If you travel to fish, the best guidebook for discovering new fishing destinations is Spectacular Fishing ($39.95, Carlton Books), from Ken Schultz of Field and Stream magazine. In a richly illustrated, coffee-table book, Schultz describes 20 top spots for saltwater fishing and almost 70 for freshwater action. Although it’s a beautiful book for armchair reading, it’s no mere travelogue. Schultz tells when to go, where they’re biting, what gear works best, and how to get there, and he also provides phone numbers for additional information. This book is ideal as a gift or as a permanent addition to the full-timer’s library. Look for it in bookstores and from online booksellers.