Changing laws

A legal ruling on civil partnerships could lead to more people being able to inherit their loved one’s estate.

In June 2018, the UK Supreme Court found in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan. They wanted to enter into a civil partnership rather than getting married.

Civil partnerships are currently only available to same-sex couples in the UK, who also have the option of getting married. Whereas opposite-sex partners like Steinfeld and Keidan can only take the marriage option – a situation they say is in breach of their human rights. The court agreed that this state of affairs amounts to discrimination.

A choice

In other countries, according to a report in The Guardian, couples in countries including South Africa, New Zealand and The Netherlands can choose either to get married or enter into a civil partnership. It remains to be seen whether or not the Government changes the law as a result of this ruling. Prior to the court ruling, in May 2018, it had published a policy paper on civil partnerships. The paper said that “our previous consultations did not suggest a significant number of opposite-sex couples wished to enter civil partnerships.” However, the policy paper did promise that a survey of unmarried, opposite-sex couples would be carried out to gauge the likely level of demand if the law does change.

The Government has two options if it wishes to end the discrimination. Either abolish civil partnerships altogether or extend them to the opposite sex. It is now assessing the cost to public bodies of both options.

Married vs. Unmarried Couples

When it comes to inheritance, civil partnerships give couples the same legal rights as married couples. If you die without a will, the first £250,000 of your estate passes to your spouse or civil partner under the rules of intestacy.

If your estate is worth more than £250,000, half of the remainder goes to your spouse/civil partner. The rest is divided equally amongst your children.

However, there’s no such rule for cohabiting couples. If you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, your children would receive nothing under the rules of intestacy.

A change in the law might encourage some of the UK’s cohabiting, opposite-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships. It would then give them legal rights under the rules of intestacy and lead to fewer people losing out financially. It could be a while before the Government finally decides what to do. Plus there’s a possibility that it may decide to eliminate discrimination by getting rid of the civil partnership option.

The best course of action available today for cohabiting couples is to get a will. That way, you can decide exactly who should benefit from your estate if you pass away – and how much they should receive.

To find out more about the easiest way of getting some of the benefits of a wedding or civil union at a fraction of the cost, contact Maplebrook Wills on 0117 440 1555.
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