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The Office for National Statistics states that “in 2012, there were 5.9 million people co-habiting in the UK, double the 1996 figure.” (1)

Although our society continually changes, the law supporting it lags behind. This is the case regarding intestacy and inheritance. Co-habiting couples do NOT enjoy the same legal rights to inheritance through intestacy as married couples (including same sex marriages). Even couples who have co-habited for many years do not have any legal right to inherit from their co-partner through the laws of intestacy.

Each co-habiting couple will have their own circumstances, but these scenarios illustrate possible outcomes in some situations:

Fred and Wilma

Wilma is divorced with two children and is the sole owner of her house. Fred is divorced with two children. Although they have lived together, with their children, in Wilma’s house for fifteen years, they do not intend to marry. Throughout this time Fred has contributed equally to the mortgage and household bills. They live, to all intents and purposes as man and wife.

Wilma died unexpectedly without leaving a Will. The laws of intestacy left the house and all of Wilma’s estate to her own children. Fred was not entitled to anything. To make matters worse for Fred, his relationship with Wilma’s children deteriorated. They wanted to sell the house and split the proceeds leaving Fred to find another home without any capital.

If Wilma had prepared a Will, she could have created a Right of Occupancy for Fred and his children. This would allow them to continue to live in the house for a certain period of time after which Fred must vacate the property and the children inherit the property.

Barny and Betty

In another scenario Barny and Betty each have two children from previous relationships. They purchased a house together in joint names. This meant that the survivor between them would automatically inherit the property when either one of them died. However, they did not want to get married and thought that preparing Wills was too expensive and a waste of time.

When Barny died the house was automatically transferred into Betty’s name.

In the following years, Betty still did not prepare a Will. She died suddenly and all her property, including the house, passed directly to her children through the laws of intestacy. Barry’s children received nothing, even though their father was originally a joint owner of the house they lived in.

What should you do if you are cohabiting and do not have a Will?

Firstly, you do not have to get married. However, you are strongly advised to consider what will happen to your estate when each partner passes away. If the outcome is not what you hoped for, contact Hay Tarn for advice.

It is important to consider if you want to make sure your family inherit fairly and avoid contention and costly disputes.

Hay Tarn will advise the best solution for your particular circumstances. It might sound complicated and involve severance of tenancy, creating a property protection trust or right of occupancy, but we will guide you through the steps required to provide you with the security and outcome you wish for.

(1) Office for National Statistics