Co-habiting couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK, and nearly half of co-habiting couples never marry at all. While many feel that this is a good way to test out a relationship, it often happens slowly, without either party really sitting down and talking about what the transition means for them financially. Partners can live together happily for years without considering what would happen to their assets if one of them died, and many don’t leave a Will.
Married partners are protected, under those circumstances, by the Government’s Intestacy Rules. If a married woman dies without leaving a Will, for example, the Government’s Intestacy Rules come into play and direct that the bereaved husband is the main (if not only) person to inherit.
There is no such protection for un-married couples, whether they live together or not. If one partner dies without having made a Will, the grieving partner will inherit nothing unless they owned property jointly. No matter how long you have lived with someone, if they own their house in their sole name and die without leaving a Will, the house will pass to their nearest relatives, rather than to you. This can, understandably, cause a lot of frustration, especially when the grieving partner knows that it wasn’t their partner’s wish.
Cohabitees faced with this unwelcome scenario don’t have a right to inherit. They must, instead, bring a legal claim against their deceased partner’s estate. The Court would take into account many factors, such as the size of the estate and the surviving partner’s financial circumstances. It would then decide, at its discretion, whether assets should pass to the surviving partner or not. This is an expensive and time-consuming process to go through at what is already a troubling time.
Things are understandably more complicated when one or more partners have children from a previous relationship, but there are ways to protect both parties. For example, if you own your property jointly with your partner, you could leave your share of the property on trust for your children, while giving your partner the right to carry on living there for a designated time, or even for the rest of their life. Your share of the property would pass to your children when the “right of occupation” comes to an end.
Some assets pass outside a Will, such as life insurance policies written in trust and joint bank accounts, and you may feel as though your partner will be well provided for if anything happens to you, but financial circumstances can change over time, bank accounts are closed and life policies lapse. Why leave things to chance? If you are living together and are not married, making a Will is an important way to protect each other in the future. Contact one of our specialists in the Wills team and we will be happy to guide you through the process.