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Cohabitees and the Inheritance Act

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More and more couples choose to live together without getting married or registering a civil partnership. If you’ve lived with your partner for several years, bought a house together, maybe had a family, you may think that if the relationship breaks down, or your partner dies, you will be accorded the same rights as a married couple. This is not the case – in English law there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife.

When married couples divorce, a Court will share out the assets of the marriage. This is not so if an unmarried couple split up or one partner dies intestate. The entitlement of the surviving partner is very different.

Head of our Family Team, Julie-Ann Harris, says “There may be a very nasty surprise for cohabitees if one of the partners dies without making a will. The partner’s estate will not automatically pass to the surviving partner but to their immediate family under intestacy rules. An unmarried partner is not even allowed to administer their partner’s estate, as they are not related to the deceased. An exception to this is if the property was in joint names or a joint tenancy.”

However, Julie-Ann points out that the law does allow a dependent partner to claim provision from the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family or Dependents Act) 1975. A surviving cohabitee can make a claim if their partner died intestate or did not make proper provision for them in a will if:

  • They were maintained by the deceased wholly or partly immediately before the death of the deceased, or
  • For two years prior to the death of the deceased they lived in the same household as if they were wife, husband or civil partner of the deceased.

If you have a question about this subject, please do contact Julie-Ann and her Team on 01202 499255.