Think Your Estate Will Automatically Go To Your Partner? Think Again.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of marriages in England and Wales has declined. In fact, while there was a rise in couples tying the knot between 2009 and 2012, the last recorded year (2012-2013) has shown a decrease of 8.6%. This continues a long-term trend which has seen the popularity of marriage falling since 1972.

However, as the number of marriages drops, the number of people co-habiting is on the rise. In fact, cohabitees with children are the fastest-growing type of family in the UK. Despite this, the law dealing with families that live together without marriage still isn’t as clear as it should be.

The reality of the common-law marriage

Worryingly, while around half of cohabiting couples believe that once they have been living together for three years they have the same rights as married couples, this isn’t the case.

So called ‘common-law marriage’ does not exist, and while proposals for reform and clarification have been put forward – such as the 2015-16 Cohabitation Rights Bill – this only reached a first reading in Parliament. So, cohabiting doesn’t give you any legal protection after a break-up, and if one partner dies, the other could find themselves in an alarming position.

Intestacy laws

For anybody who fails to make a Will – married or otherwise – the law of intestacy will step in when they die.

For married couples with children, this means that the surviving partner will inherit the first £250,000 and half of any remaining value. If there are no children involved, the partner inherits the entire estate.

However, cohabitees may not inherit anything. Especially where a home or bank account was not owned jointly. Instead, any inheritance would pass to children (followed by grandchildren, parents and then other blood relatives). Should no such relations exist, the entire estate could go to the Crown.

Where there’s a Will, there’s a way

With a Will, it is possible to ensure that cohabitees are protected from such financial distress and upheaval. However, even where a Will exists, couples who simply live together could find themselves at a disadvantage. For example, cohabitees are subject to inheritance tax on any value over the current threshold of £325,000, whereas couples who are not married (or in a civil partnership) are exempt.

Protect your loved ones

Making a Will is easier than you might think. Proper estate planning can provide you and your family with peace of mind, and minimise the amount of inheritance tax due. Speak to one of our expert team and make sure that your wealth is passed on in line with your wishes.

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