Surveys suggest that approximately two thirds of adults do not have a will and given the changes in society where more people are now less inclined to get married for example due to a previous breakdown of a married, it is believed that around 6 million people are now living as cohabiting partners and a high proportion of these are those who do not have a valid will.
It is a strongly held belief that unmarried partners have the same inheritance rights as those who are married or in civil partnerships and that should their partner die without leaving a will they will be able to inherit from their partner’s estate. But unfortunately this is not the case and a death of a partner may mean that the surviving partner is left with nothing. This will be the case even if you’ve been together for a very long period of time and you may also have children or grandchildren from that relationship, but the fact that there is no Will, will mean that the surviving partner may not receive anything.
When a person dies without leaving a Will they are said to die intestate and there are legal rules (the intestacy rules) which stipulate who benefits from that person’s estate. In cases of intestacy, married partners or those in civil partnerships will be the main beneficiary of their spouse’s estate followed by children, parents, siblings, grandparents and aunts and uncles. From this you will see that cohabiting partners are not considered as an entitled beneficiary neither are any children of the cohabiting partner from a previous relationship who may have been brought up by the deceased as the deceased’s own child. Therefore in order to ensure that your partner is provided for on death, it is advisable to have a Will in place.
However cases where the intestacy rules or a Will may not apply are when assets are held in the joint names of the deceased and another. These assets will pass automatically to the surviving joint partner and this will not be affected by the intestacy rules or any provisions in the Will. To ensure that this automatic transfer takes effect you must make sure that the property is held as joint tenants and not as tenants in common. Where the property is held in the sole name of the deceased including his share of the house owned as tenants in common this will be distributed in accordance with the intestacy rules in the absence of a valid Will.
Alternatively the inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (as amended) allows certain categories of relatives and dependants to bring a claim for financial provision from the deceased person’s estate whether they have died with or without a will.
Therefore unmarried partners could potentially being a claim for financial provision under this act. Should their claim be successful the court can can make orders similar to those in divorce proceedings in favour of the surviving partner.
However it is important to bear in mind that legal proceedings are rather complicated and that this process can be expensive, lengthy and difficult as the partner will be in direct conflict with those entitled to benefit under the intestacy rules. Furthermore the partner may be going through the emotional stresses of the death and may not wish to be involved in stressful legal proceedings but at the same time it does mean that because there is no valid Will they could be left with nothing.
In the circumstances, it is therefore advisable to ensure that you have valid Will in place and ensure that any Wills that you do have are regularly reviewed to reflect any changing circumstances.
Should you wish to discuss any of the issues raised above please do not hesitate to contact Rohima on 01895 201700.