The times have changed. In the 1960s it was unusual for unmarried couples to live together, only 2% of all households. Since then social attitudes towards marriage have been transformed and cohabitation is now the fasting growing family type, doubling over the last 20 years. In 2017 more than 3.3 million of Britain’s 19 million households were unmarried couples, over 17% of all households. 1 Many of these couples will stay together for decades, raising children and getting on with their lives. A new normal.
But the inheritance laws have not kept up with the way we now live and could leave these couples in danger of losing out should their partner pass away. There is no legal safety net to protect you. Most couples don’t realise the danger even exists. Only 26% of cohabiting couples have a will. 2 A poll by the Resolution Foundation found that two-thirds of people in a cohabiting relationship thought they were in a “common law marriage” and therefore would have legal rights should their partner die. 3 Unfortunately for them, common law marriages were abolished in 1753 but somehow the idea persists in the modern mind.
The Government recognises the shortfall between the law and the rights of cohabiting partners but progress has been slow. In a recent court case a surviving partner won the right to receive a bereavement award after her partner died in an accident, something only previously given to married partners and minor children. In some cases, if a cohabiting partner passes away and the house is in their name, the surviving partner may claim a portion of the house if they can prove they made significant financial contributions towards it, such a paying part of the mortgage. Even so, they would still have no claim on the remainder of the house. Although pressure is building for reform,a sea change in the rights of cohabiting partners is yet to happen.
The cold reality is that if a cohabiting partner dies without a will the surviving partner has no legal right to inherit their partner’s assets, no matter how long they lived together . Under current law any asset in a partner’s name is distributed
solely amongst blood relatives – the house, the car, savings – everything.
The easy solution: you (and your partner) need to make out a will. A will is inexpensive and easy to do. You can insure your assets go where you want, to your partner and children, to help take care of those you love. Making a will only takes a few minutes online and we can guide you through the process. Legal security and peace of mind are only a few clicks away.
This article has been sponsored by the good people at eWill.io (The world’s most sophisticated digital will).
- Office of National Statistics, Families and Households: 2017, Statistical Bulletin, 8 November 2017; NatCen British Social Attitudes Survey, 2017.
- Direct Line Insurance Research, 2018 .
- ComRes poll of 2,000 UK adults for the Resolution Trust, November 2017.