Many cohabiting couples assume that they are protected by ‘common law marriage’ if one of them dies. However, what most people fail to realise is that common law marriage is a myth.
In a survey carried out by Direct Line Life Insurance, over a third of cohabiting couples didn’t understand what their legal rights would be if their partner died. 10% of respondents mistakenly thought that they would automatically inherit their partner’s share of the house if they died. Unfortunately, the reality is not so simple.
The truth is, whether a couple have lived together for a week or several decades, if they’re not married, they have no legal right to inherit any of their partner’s estate. Accordingly, it’s vitally important for cohabiting couples to make a will – perhaps even more so than for married couples.
What happens if you die without a will?
If you die without a will, everything you own (known as your estate) will be inherited by your next of kin under inheritance laws known as the Rules of Intestacy.
The Rules of Intestacy are strict and don’t recognise cohabiting couples. This means that your surviving partner will not automatically inherit any of your property and possessions. In some cases, your partner can make a valid inheritance claim, or your family may decide to vary the intestacy to provide for your partner.
What happens to your property when you die?
What happens to your property depends on how you and your partner own it. If the property is in your sole name, and if you haven’t made a will, the property will be passed according to the Rules of Intestacy.
If you own the property jointly with your partner, the property will be passed according to the type of ownership:
- If you and your partner own the property as Joint Tenants, when you die, ownership will automatically pass to your partner.
- If you and your partner own the property as Tenants in Common, you and your partner will have separate shares of the property. This is usually 50/50. In this situation, if you die without a will, your partner will retain their share of the property, but your share will be inherited by your next of kin under the Rules of Intestacy.
Who administers your estate when you die?
It’s not just that your cohabiting partner won’t be able to automatically inherit your estate when you die, they also won’t be able to administer your estate.
If you make a will, you can nominate your partner as the executor of your estate. Being an executor involves taking on a lot of responsibility. In some circumstances, your partner may not wish to be an executor and you might consider appointing someone else who is capable of doing the job.
Wills for cohabiting couples
The only way to ensure your partner receives their rightful share of your property and possessions after you pass away is to make a will. In your will, you can make your wishes clear and leave no room for uncertainty. You can bypass the Rules of Intestacy and specify exactly who should inherit what.
Are you in a cohabiting relationship? For more advice on how to protect your partner in the event of your death, give our experts at Probate London a call on 020 8017 1029 or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.