November 14, 2014

Why cohabiting couples should make a will

More than one million cohabiting couples will inherit nothing if their partner dies without a will and has dependent children.

This stark warning from The Law Society serves as timely reminder of the vulnerability of the 5.9 million couples who live together.

Under intestacy laws, dependent children of the deceased will inherit the entire estate, while a partner will stand to inherit nothing if the couple were not married or in a civil partnership.

It is a travesty of our legal system that even though the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 was recently updated to strengthen the rights of married spouses and civil partners, the position of ‘common law’ couples remains unaltered.

Regular readers of our blog will know that Jones Myers has been campaigning for legislation that supports unmarried couples for a number of years. The latest warning from the Law Society highlights that we have some way to go to put married and cohabitating couples on a an equal footing.

This is demonstrated by a recent update to the Inheritance and Trustees’ Powers Act 2014 which strengthens the position of married couples and civil partners but offers no legal protection to those living together.

Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society, says: “Under the rules, assets passing to children are held in trust until they reach the age of 18, potentially leaving the surviving partner in an emotional and financial mess and with no access to vital funds to help them cope.

“Further, these assets must be paid to the child when they turn 18 – there is no other option. Many people would regard 18 as far too young to receive what could be a substantial sum of money.”

We strongly advise all our clients to draw up a will, and review it regularly, to ensure that their final wishes are met and that they do not leave their loved ones financially and emotionally bereft.

For couples living together we would also urge them to draw up a cohabitation agreement. This sets out who owns what and in what proportion as well as documents how property, its contents, personal belongings, savings and other assets can be divided should a relationship come to an end.

It can also cover how many children will be supported as well as how to deal with bank accounts, debts and joint purchases, such as a car.

Couples who live together run the risk of being left homeless and penniless until English law is reformed to give them the rights they deserve.

If you or your family do find yourself in a position of difficulty following the death of a cohabitee then do not hesitate to contact Martin Holdsworth, head of the Jones Myers Contentious Trust and Estate team who will be able to assist in resolving matters as soon as possible. Please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.