There were 3.1 million opposite sex cohabiting couple families and 90,000 same sex cohabiting couple families in the UK in 2015. Together, cohabiting couple families account for 17% of all families in the UK which is an increase on previous years (Office of National Statistics).
Despite the increasing trend of cohabitation, many people still believe that cohabitants have the same legal rights as married couples. This is not the case and in fact they have almost no rights at all when it comes to inheritance. The main difficulty that arises with cohabitating couples is when one partner dies without leaving a Will.
When any person dies without a Will then the rules of intestacy apply. If you are not married to your partner then you have no legal entitlement to any of the assets held in their sole name.
It is also important to consider how the family home is owned. If the property is owned by you partner in their sole name, when they die, you will not be entitled under the rules of intestacy to any share of the property.
If you own the property jointly and believe that should one of you die the other inherits the property automatically, this may not be the case. There are 2 ways to own your property jointly ; as Joint tenants which is where the property will automatically pass to the surviving owner, or as Tenants in Common where each owner owns a specific share in the property and it doesn’t automatically pass to the surviving owner. It will pass in accordance with the Will or if no Will under the rules of intestacy. You may want to check the ownership of your property if you are unsure.
It is therefore extremely important that both cohabitants make a Will expressing their wishes should one of them die.
If no Will is in place and the surviving cohabitant believes they should be entitled to some or all of their partners estate then they can bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. There is no guarantee that a claim would be successful and in order to protect your loved one from any unnecessary worry and costs our advice is to make a Will to ensure that your wishes are carried out.
If you would like to discuss making a Will then please call either Sarah Littlewood who works between our Thorne and Wakefield offices or Laura Scott who works between our Goole and Thorne offices on 01405 813108.