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Why Unmarried Couples Need to Make a Will

When every online article starts “the 10 things you need to do…”, it’s hard to take any advice seriously. But if you and your partner are unmarried (especially if you have children) you really do need to make a Will.

Intestacy – The rules that govern what happens to your money and assets if you die without a Will

When the Office for National Statistics released their 2013 Families and Housing Survey, the cohabiting couple family continued to be the fastest growing family type in the UK, growing from 2.2million in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013. Despite this, under the intestacy laws, co-habitees had no automatic right to receive a penny from their partner’s estate – regardless of how long they had lived together or even if they had children. How very outdated!

With these statistics in mind, you may have expected a change when a review of the intestacy laws was implemented on 1st October 2014. Well, you’d be disappointed. The rules stayed the same: co-habitees get nothing.

Image showing family types in UK

So what would happen to our assets if one of use were to die and hadn’t made a Will?

Put simply, the intestacy laws prioritise blood relatives first – so children, parents, brothers and sisters come first. For example:

1) Sarah & John co-habit, they have one child together, Sam. If John dies, Sam gets everything and Sarah has no automatic right to anything.

2) Paula & Darren co-habit, Paula has a son, Tom, from a previous relationship and Darren has a daughter, Claire, from a previous relationship. If Paula dies suddenly, Tom gets everything. Darren and Claire have no automatic right to anything.

What if we own a house?

It’s slightly less straightforward and depends on how you own the property. If the property is owned in just one of your names, then if the named owner dies, the property would pass to children first. If you own the property jointly, then it depends on how you own it jointly:

-If you own it as joint tenants, the surviving partner automatically own the whole house. However, a claim could be made against the deceased’s half share of the house on behalf of their children – particularly concerning if the children are from a previous relationship of the deceased partner.

-If you own it as tenants in common, then your respective shares would pass to children, not the co-habitee.

Protected House

This must be nonsense, surely the co-habitee would get something?

The answer is… maybe - but it’s far less straightforward than you’d want it to be at such an awful time.

In short, you’d need to make a claim for ‘reasonable provision’ against your partner’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. You would claim as someone who was being maintained by that person at the time of their death and/or as someone who had lived with that person for at least two years prior to their death.

You’re not guaranteed to get anything and whatever you do receive may not have been as much as your partner would have wanted.

But we’re going to get married/we’re engaged?

The rules are the same - until you are married, the same intestacy rules would apply.

A Will is invalidated by marriage, but, if you make a Will and make it clear that you plan on marrying a specific person soon, your Will remains valid – so don’t put it off!

Why does making a Will make a difference?

The intestacy rules only apply to people who haven’t made a valid Will. By making a Will as a couple you can choose to make appropriate provision for each other. This could mean:

-Leaving everything to each other and then to your children

-Leaving something to your partner and something to your children

-Using a trust to ensure your partner can use your assets during their lifetime, but then ensure that they pass to your children when your partner die. This can be particularly useful when you have children from a previous relationship

At the same time you’ll be able to appoint guardians for your children, choose the right people to administer your estate and decide when your children would inherit.

I offer daytime, evening (9am-9pm) and weekend (10am-4pm) home appointments throughout Yorkshire and the Humber. I’m a member of the Society of Will Writers and all my work is insured. All appointments are without obligation and there is nothing to pay until your Will is signed.