The surviving partner of an unmarried couple does not have the same rights as a surviving partner of a married couple or the surviving partner in a civil partnership if their partner dies without leaving a Will.
This is the case regardless of the length of time the unmarried couple have been together, or whether they have children together.
If their partner dies without leaving a Will, the surviving partner can be left in a very difficult position. They might find that their partner’s money and even their home passes, by law, to their partner’s closest relatives. Moreover, in some cases those relatives might be distant relatives their partner had never even met.
No Automatic Right to Inherit
Because on the death of a partner of an unmarried couple there is no automatic right for the survivor to inherit, an unmarried couple should ensure they seek legal advice and make suitable provision.
One way to do this would be for the partners to make Mirror Wills, simply leaving everything to each other.
What About Mixed or Blended Families?
A straightforward Mirror Will may not be appropriate for all unmarried couples. In some cases, one partner might have children from a previous relationship they want to leave their assets to.
In a situation like this, it might be that each partner makes a Will leaving their partner the right to live in the house (or their share of the house) rent-free for the rest of their life but directing that, on the death of the surviving partner, their house passes on to the children.
Reflecting Your Wishes
Leanne Ronksley, Wills and Trusts Planner at Wosskow Brown, says: “It is important to ensure that your Will is completely up to date and reflects your wishes. Especially if you’ve been divorced before and are now in an unmarried relationship.
“Whilst marriage revokes any previous Will, divorce does not – it simply treats your divorced spouse as having died before you.”
Making a Financial Provision Claim
Parliament has recognised the problem caused for the increasing number of unmarried couples. In 1995, they introduced an amendment to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. This allows the surviving partner of an unmarried couple to make a claim against their deceased partner’s estate on the basis that the deceased partner has not made reasonable financial provision for them.
They can make a claim provided that they were living together as if married or in a civil partnership for at least two years leading up the death of the deceased partner.
Any claim must be issued in court within 6 months of the date of the grant of representation in the deceased partner’s estate.
But bear in mind, it is a claim for reasonable financial provision, which means such financial provision as it would be reasonable in the circumstances for the surviving partner to receive for their maintenance. Whilst the word maintenance has a wide meaningit does not mean the surviving partner should expect a generous payment, even if the deceased partner was very wealthy.
And of course there could be competing claims against the estate, particularly if the deceased partner had dependent children from a previous relationship.
Not a Substitute
The fact that a surviving partner of an unmarried couple might have a claim against the deceased partner’s estate is not a substitute for unmarried partners to make Wills.
However, we at Wosskow Brown are happy to bring claims on behalf of surviving unmarried partners who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not having inherited on the death of their partner.
We offer a free consultation; either on the phone or at our office, and in certain cases we will agree to act on a no-win no-fee basis.
Writing a Will
“It is, however, always easier if you and your partner have both written a Will to ensure that your wishes are recorded and therefore carried out in the event of your death. This way, any complications will be avoided”, added Leanne.
If you are an unmarried couple, please contact or expert wills solicitors about preparing a Will, and we can help you and your partner to ensure suitable provision is made for each other on death.