It is common place for people to live together these days before they marry; sometimes they choose to purchase a property during this time. Many also have children prior to marriage; approximately 50% of children in 2017 are born to unmarried mothers.* However, when doing all of these ‘grown up’ things, some people are under the misapprehension that the law recognises what is known as a ‘common law marriage’ i.e. marriage without a marriage itself. This is a fallacy and under the current rules of intestacy (the rules that dictate what happens to someone’s assets if they die without a Will) there is no provision for a surviving unmarried partner to inherit anything; this is the case even if the couple have children together and can also be the case regarding a jointly owned property, depending on the manner in which the property was purchased and what arrangements were put in place at that stage.
The Law Commission has recommended that certain groups of cohabitants should be given automatic inheritance rights on intestacy. The government has confirmed that the current parliament will not implement these recommendations.
The only secure way to ensure that unmarried partners inherit from each other is to make provision for this within a legally binding Will. For those with children there is also the opportunity to ensure a guardianship appointment within a Will. Wills can also be drafted for engaged couples in contemplation of their marriage, to avoid any Will becoming void upon marriage (as the law dictates).
Rebecca at Illuminate Legal helps clients work out what would suit them best regarding their own family arrangements; she is used to dealing with clients living in a modern world who have diverse and ever-changing needs and want peace of mind for those close to them.
Rebecca Reid, Illuminate Legal Limited, Odiham, Hampshire
*Telegraph newspapers July 2013