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Cohabiting partner wins deceased partner’s share of the house

Head of the Wills, probate and trust team solicitor Rachael Stephenson discusses a case concerning a woman who won a legal battle after part of the estate she shared with her late partner passed to his estranged wife after his death.

The late Norman Martin died a married man and had cohabited with his partner, Joy Williams, for 18 years in a house that they owned together as tenants in common.  This meant that on his unexpected death, his wife inherited his estate as he died without having made a Will.  Part of the estate included Mr Martin’s share of the house he owned with his partner.

Ms Williams made an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for ‘reasonable provision’ out of his estate.  In an arduous and exhausting four-hour ruling, the Judge concluded that Ms Williams was entitled to 'retain an absolute interest' in the house. Mrs Martin was ordered to pay costs of £100,000.

The above case could possibly have been avoided if the couple had reviewed their circumstances with a legal adviser and had up-to-date wills in place. It is vitally important to review your estate planning and seek legal advice if you are cohabiting with someone and remain married to someone else.  Under the intestacy rules, if you die without a Will and you are married then your spouse automatically inherits from the estate.  A surviving partner does not have the automatic right to inherit under the intestacy rules.  There is still a misconception that if you live with someone then under common law you are “man and wife”.  English law has never recognised common law husbands or wives.   

For advice about making or updating your Will, contact our Wills, Probate & Trusts Team.  If you are cohabiting or plan to do so and you would like advice about a cohabitation agreement, please contact our Family Team. on 01228 552222.

About the author

Rachael Stephenson profile photo

Rachael Stephenson

Rachael Stephenson is a Partner and head of the Wills, Probate & Trusts team.

Published: Thursday 25th February 2016
Categorised: Family Law, Wills, Probate & Trusts

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