Sixty years ago, when the 1950 census data was released, it showed that eight in 10 households were occupied by married couples. Fifty years later, the 2000 census data showed that number had declined to just over 50%, signifying a sea change in the typical American household. Almost half of households were occupied by a single individual, roommates or unmarried couples (the 2010 census data is still in the process of being made public).
If you are in the “living together but not married” category, you should pay close attention to the language in your home and auto insurance policies that specifies which individuals are covered—in insurance terms, the “insureds.”
Most standard home insurance policies restrict coverage to a “named insured”—the individual person(s) named on the policy and his or her resident spouse. The policy then extends coverage to “resident relatives,” a term referring to individuals related to the named insured by blood, marriage or adoption (or someone under 21 in your care, such as a foster child) who are residents of the named insured’s household.
This means that a home insurance company has no obligation to cover a non-insured’s liability or to defend that person in a lawsuit alleging liability.
Consider this scenario: A girlfriend and her teenage son move in with the woman’s boyfriend. The son seriously injures another child in a tackle football game at the park down the street. That child’s parents file a suit against the mother/girlfriend.
Unless she has her own separate insurance policy (such as a “renters” insurance policy) or has been added as a named insured on the home insurance policy (which most insurance companies won’t do if she isn’t a relative), she has no coverage.
The problem doesn’t stop with liability. Chances are the girlfriend and her son will also move some of their personal property in with them, but clothes, electronics, school supplies and whatever else belongs to them may not be covered by the homeowner’s insurance policy either. Most policies exclude coverage for personal property that is owned by roomers, boarders or tenants. This personal property exclusion is another reason why a renters insurance policy is essential for non-insured roommates.
The auto policy also has a “named insured” which includes the individual listed on the policy and his or her spouse. The insured on an auto policy varies depending on the coverage. For example, liability, medical payments, and uninsured motorist coverage each have their own definitions of “insured.”
Say an adult boyfriend and girlfriend (or same-sex couple) each have a car and their own personal auto insurance policies. One has high limits of liability on their policy, maybe $100,000, and the other has lower limits, like $25,000.
Let’s look at liability coverage in this scenario. This section of the policy covers the “named insured” and “family members” for liability arising out of the use of any auto. It also considers any other person an “insured” while that person is occupying a car (with permission) that is insured under your policy.
Dig deeper, however, and you’ll see that the policy excludes coverage while the “named insured” or “family member” is operating a vehicle that is furnished or available for regular use.
If the girlfriend is driving the boyfriend’s car and gets into an accident causing injuries, his auto insurer would pay up to the policy limits—in this case, $25,000. Unfortunately this may not be enough money to cover the full liability if the injuries are severe, and the liability policy with $100,000 limit might not be available as a fallback, even though it covers the driver for the use of any auto. That’s because the driver’s insurer can argue that this car is available for the driver’s regular use since the car owner and driver live together and that, under that circumstance, coverage is excluded by the policy language.
The good news is that these scenarios have solutions that I can advise you on. Call today!
Jon Jepsen, CIC