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More and more couples are choosing to live together without getting married. It is therefore surprising that so few know what their legal rights would be should their partner die. An estimated 70% of people in the UK do not currently have a Will in place. It is important that couples are aware of their legal rights should one of them pass away without a Will.
Where partners own a property together, many assume that it simply passes to their partner if they died. This is not always the case.
Where couples own the property as ‘Joint Tenants’, the property automatically passes to the other owner by ‘survivorship’. However, if a couple own the property in their sole name, or jointly as ‘Tenants in Common’, things are not so straight forward. The surviving partner would not automatically be entitled to inherit the deceased partner’s share. It would depend on if they left a Will.
Where there is no Will in place, the deceased partner’s share would then pass under the intestacy rules. These unfortunately do not make any provision for unmarried partners. The property would pass to other family members, such as their parents, siblings or even remoter family.
Similar to above, if money is held in a joint account the funds would pass to the surviving account holder.
However, where money is invested in individual accounts (eg ISAs) an unmarried partner has no automatic right to the account. It would depend on if the deceased had specified in a Will. Where there is no Will, the account would be dealt with under the intestacy rules . This may cause serious financial difficulties for the surviving partner.
Unfortunately there is no such thing in law as a ‘common-law spouse’. Couples who are married have different rights to those who are not, particularly in the case of intestacy. In some cases it may be possible for a partner to make a claim against the estate. But this can be avoided by putting a Will in place making your intentions clear.
The most important thing that couples can do to protect each other is to make a Will. By doing this, couples can stipulate who is to receive what in the event of their death. Appropriate provisions can be put in place to protect the surviving partner should the worst happen.
It is important to note that Wills may be revoked by marriage unless properly accounted for in the Will. It is therefore important to let your solicitor know if you are considering marriage before they draft your Wills!
For more information, or for an appointment to discuss your requirements, speak to one of our expert solicitors in our Wills and Probate team on 01270 625478. Alternatively you can visit our Wills and Probate services page here or complete our web form here and we will call you back.
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