Cohabitation is becoming increasingly popular. About one in every six couples living together do so without being married or having entered into a civil partnership.
Regardless of how long they have lived together, unmarried or same-sex cohabitees face a very nasty shock indeed if one of them dies without having prepared a Will including provisions for the survivor. And that’s why anyone living together really needs a will
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What rights do Cohabitees have?
If you live together as a couple without being married or in a civil partnership, then your rights around finances, property and children are extremely limited.
Don’t have an up-to-date will and live together? You really should think about making a will if you are without one – and if you do have one but it’s out of date, it’s important you get that updated. Your will need to properly reflect your current personal circumstances.
And in addition, it is well worth thinking about having a cohabitation agreement to protect your interests.
Click here to read more about cohabitation agreements
NB There’s no to be embarrassed if you weren’t aware how little cohabitees have by way of rights. You are in good company. The 2020 British Social Attitudes Survey carried out by The National Centre for Social Research – discovered that a full 46% of us were under the wrong impression that simply by living together meant you had formed a “common law marriage” – something that simply does not exist.
Cohabiting without a will – the very real risks
Unlike married couples, in the absence of a valid Will any property belonging to the deceased will not pass to the survivor and the intestacy rules apply. When you live together, outside of marriage or a civil partnership, and one of you dies without leaving a will, the survivor has no automatic right to inherit any part of his or her partner’s estate.
Instead, the intestacy rules set out what will happen when you die intestate (i.e. without having made a valid Will). This often bears little relation to how you would want your assets to be distributed.
In the absence of a valid Will and under the intestacy rules, your estate will be divided as follows:
- For couples with children, the deceased partner’s estate goes entirely to their children when they reach 18 or earlier if they marry before turning 18.
- For childless couples, the estate goes to the deceased’s parents, siblings and other more distant relatives in a specified order.
If for example, you are living together but your partner owns your home, if they should die intestate before you, you have no automatic right to the property or even to remain living in it.
Click here to find out more about joint home ownership
NB It maybe possible, in certain limited circumstances, for a surviving cohabitant to make a claim at court against the estate of their partner.
Cohabitees – the importance of inheritance tax planning
The risks of paying too much inheritance tax are possibly even greater for cohabitees than they are for married couples. That’s because unmarried couples don’t benefit from the same exemptions as their married counterparts.
In particular, without the right inheritance tax planning, cohabitees could end up with a much bigger inheritance tax bill – facing a tax liability on both the first and the second death of the couple.
But don’t worry – there are practical steps that cohabitees can take to reduce their IHT liability.
Call our expert private client team on 0800 1404544 or 1 of our 4 branch offices – or click here to read more about inheritance tax planning
The solution however is simple
A Will setting out how you would like to provide for your surviving partner and who you would like to benefit from any other assets you may own, is the answer.
For many people there is a bonus in having a Will prepared – it gives an opportunity for you to get advice from one of our specialist estate planning lawyers about tax – and inheritance tax in particular.
Are you living together and want assistance with making or updating your will? The wills and probate solicitors in our highly experienced private client team can help. We write Wills for clients throughout Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset from our offices in Salisbury, Fordingbridge, Andover and Amesbury.
Click here to read more about making your will