What happens to my estate if my partner dies and we’re not married?
By Maplebrook Wills
15th Apr '18
Legacy Planning, Wills
More people than ever are choosing to live together without getting married. For many, it makes sense as it spares the pain of divorce. But if you don’t have a will, it could have unforeseen consequences for your estate.
There are 3.3 million cohabiting couples in the UK – more than double the number there were in 1996. But despite the popularity of cohabiting, often misleadingly called “common law marriage”, these couples don’t have the same legal rights as those who are married or in civil partnerships.
One area in which this can cause big problems is when one of the partners dies. If they don’t have a will at the time of their death, their estate is handled under what’s known as the rules of intestacy.
The rules of intestacy date back to 1925, when public morals were very different to what they are today. Unmarried couples were frowned upon and so the surviving partner received nothing – a situation that continues to this day.
The partner’s estate passes to their blood relatives in a particular order. It’s shared equally amongst their children, if they had any, or their grandchildren. If there are no surviving children or grandchildren, it would pass instead to their parents if they’re still alive.
Many cohabiting couples own their homes as joint tenants, but some do not. In some couples, one person is the sole legal owner. If that person passes away, the house would end up being owned by someone other than their partner.
“This could leave your partner as an owner of the house along with your parents, who may or may not like your partner,” says Mike Pugh of Maplebrook Wills. “The partner could find themselves out on the streets.”
It sounds drastic but situations like this can – and do – happen. “If you don’t get along with your partner’s family, you’re unlikely to get along with them in the very emotional circumstances in which someone has died. Death is not necessarily a unifying force,” says Pugh.
A brighter future
There’s a chance that this will change at some point in the future. The Cohabitation Rights Bill aims to redress the balance for unmarried couples but it’s only just begun its passage through the Lords.
The Bill has yet to reach the House of Commons, and ultimately will need Royal Assent before it becomes law. It’s safe to say that this won’t happen any time soon and doesn’t change the fact that if you die today without a will, your unmarried partner gets nothing.
Protect your estate
But there is a way to ensure that your other half benefits from your estate without having to go to the trouble of getting married. And that’s simply to contact a professional will writing service such as Maplebrook Wills and get a will written for both you and your partner.
“Having a will gives you all the rights and protections you’d have if you were married and died intestate. In fact, it gives you more protection because you can dictate where your assets actually go,” says Pugh.
Getting a will is also a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest wedding ceremony. And unlike weddings, 42% of which end in divorce, a will lasts a lifetime.