The law lags behind when it comes to unmarried couples and their rights. Astonishingly, a surviving partner of a cohabiting couple is not automatically entitled to inherit their deceased partner’s estate – unless the specifics are written down in the deceased partner’s Will.
Without a Will, the rules of intestacy decide what happens when your partner dies, and their estate will be distributed according to these rules rather than according to their wishes. There is no legal protection from being in a “common law” relationship. This is true whether the unmarried couple has been together for a few years or 50 years.
Between 1996 and 2016, the number of people choosing to live together rather than marry more than doubled, from 1.45million to 3.3million, highlighting the popularity of this lifestyle choice – and yet, the law still favours married couples.
It is therefore vital to make sure you and your partner inherit should one of you pass away, and to make a Will that details all your plans and wishes for your property and assets when you die will ensure this happens.
What Is Intestacy?
The rules of intestacy state who should benefit from an estate. Usually, this is spouses or civil partners, children and more distant family members. The surviving partner is entitled to nothing.
Intestacy does not know the individual set-up of the deceased’s family, and relatives who were not close or even on speaking terms can end up being beneficiaries of the estate while the surviving partner of decades inherits nothing.
However, joint assets usually pass to the surviving partner, depending on how they were held. For example, any property owned as joint tenants should pass to the surviving partner, but if the property is owned as tenants in common then each share of the property forms part of the individual’s estate and won’t automatically be inherited by the surviving partner.
One option is to claim under the Inheritance Act 1975, but you would need a specialist solicitor and to be willing to have a lengthy and stressful battle. Even if you are successful at the end of it, you wouldn’t be exempt from inheritance tax like spouses are.
Why Make A Will?
To ensure you can provide for each other’s financial security and peace of mind, you need to make a Will if you live together or are unmarried. As well as finances, you can stipulate exactly what you want to happen after you die – from stating who your favourite painting goes to, through to appointing guardians for your children, your Will enables you to express all your wishes for your estate when you pass away.
Helping You With Your Will
We will take into consideration your personal situation when helping you to make a Will, including thinking through every aspect of your future plans. By making a Will, you will ensure your partner is protected and will inherit from your estate when you die.
By making a Will today, you have the peace of mind that your loved one will be looked after long after tomorrow. Without the legal rights that married couples enjoy, it is even more important for cohabiting couples to make a Will and be able to state just who inherits what when you die.