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At I am a member of Resolution, previously known as The Family Law Association. This is an organisation that regularly lobbies the Government on issues relating to Divorce and Separation. One of its current themes is around the issue of Cohabitation.
You may be living with your partner and not married, you may think of yourselves as Common Law husband and wife or Common Law Partners. However, I have some news for you - that concept is not recognised in English law!
If one of you dies, then the survivor will not automatically inherit if the deceased did not make a will. Instead, their next of kin will inherit.
If you are not married, or in a Civil Partnership;
If you haven’t been living together long and you are both quite young, it is highly likely that your loyalties will be with your birth family rather than to each other. But when do you start to feel differently? There won’t be a particular day; there is no rule for this. If you marry one another then, of course, your next of kin is your spouse, and they will inherit a good chunk of your estate if you don’t have a will.
Emmersons Solicitors Wills and Probate Department dealt with one case where “Jim” died suddenly at the age of 34. He had lived with “Erica” for three years. Jim had a house in his own name which he rented out and another house in his sole name where he lived with Erica.
Jim had no will and no children. He had never met his father, who was still alive, as was his mother. In this case, Erica was very lucky as Jim’s father did not seek an interest in his estate. His mother signed the shared house over to Erica and took the rented house for herself. Imagine if both parents, as next of kin, had decided to give Erica nothing.
You might have only been living together for a couple of years; it hasn’t worked out, there are no children, you sort out your assets between you and move on. But what if you have been living together for 18 years, you have three children, one of you has given up work for years to care for the children, you have given up a good salary, and you have not been able to build up savings or investments. Even worse, the house is in the sole name of your partner!
You might think that the law will look after you. After all, you have lived together a long time, you are Common Law husband and wife, aren’t you?
In these circumstances, you would not be entitled to a share of the house unless you could prove you had contributed capital, and by that, I don’t mean mortgage payments, it must be lump sums of money.
One of our clients, “Jessica”, had lived with her partner, “Ben”, for about twelve years. The house was already owned by Ben when the couple met. Jessica moved in with Ben and started to contribute towards the mortgage on a monthly basis as well as paying her share of the bills. The couple then had a child. To all extents and purposes they looked like a married couple, they ran their lives in the same way as a married couple would.
However, their relationship ran into difﬁculties, and Jessica left the family home taking her 6-year-old daughter with her. At this stage I was asked to seek a settlement from Ben on behalf of Jessica. He was not interested, whilst he agreed to pay maintenance for his daughter he would not give Jessica anything.
I was able to prove that Jessica had made a lump sum payment towards an extension on the house. However, her family were builders, and they had given up a huge amount of time to modernise the house. Jessica had spent about £15,000 on building supplies, money which she gave to her family during the building works.
The matter proceeded to court. Unfortunately, the judge was not interested in any items that Jessica could not prove that she had paid for. All she was allowed was the lump sum she could prove that she had paid. Between her and her family, in respect of the building works, they lost the £15,000 plus thousands of pounds in builders’ time.
If you are not married and you separate, you would not be entitled to a share of your partner’s pension pot or his or her savings. In short, you are going to be at the mercy of your partner to help you out. If this affects you, then you need a proper discussion with your partner.
Sort out your wills now!
Do you want to get married now that you understand the law is not going to protect you?
If you need any help or advice around these issues, then please don’t hesitate to contact :
Wills and Probate Specialists Solicitors Newcastle: 0191 284 6989
Wills and Probate Specialists Solicitors Sunderland: 0191 567 6667
or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or complete our Online Enquiry Form and select Wills or Probate
You can also park opposite our Sunderland Office on John Street.