It’s becoming increasingly common for couples to live together and start a family without marrying. It is thought that there are around six million couples in this situation in the UK. And while you might not want to think about it, this can cause issues if one of your dies.
Current UK law means that partners are not automatically entitled to inherit anything regardless of the length of time you’ve been together or the number of children you have.
That’s why it is a good idea to set out your exact wishes in a will so that your money, property and pension goes to the person you want it to. Consult a family law specialist if you have any complex estate planning needs.
Who inherits your money without a will?
If you or your partner die, their children will inherit their estate equally (excluding step-children). If no children are involved, then the next of kin will inherit the estate. This could be parents, siblings, grandparents etc. It depends on who is still alive at the time. There is no legal right to inherit an unmarried partner’s estate, no matter how long you’ve been together.
What about property
If one of you dies and there is property involved, a number of things could happen. If the partner who died owned the property, then this will pass to their next of kin. This can be their children or other family members.
If you both own the property and are classed as Joint Tenants, then the other partner will inherit their share. If you are classed as Tenants in Common then the deceased partner’s share will be inherited along with the rest of their estate.
Why you should leave a will
Married couples who don’t have a will can often rely on the prevailing law to ensure that they inherit their partner’s estate upon death. But when you aren’t married you need to make it explicit.
A will can ensure that your partner does not have to worry about money or the need to contest your will, potentially causing issues with family members.
If step-children are involved, you can set out your wishes to have your partner become their legal guardian.
What about common law?
It is a common misconception that when you’ve lived with someone as if you were married for a certain period of time, then they are your common-law spouse, and as such have the rights and protections of a married couple. This is not the case. The surviving partner can make a claim against the will if they’ve been living together for more than two years but this can be a lengthy and expensive process.
You don’t have to be married to ensure that your partner inherits your estate as you wish. However, inheritance laws can cause a lot of trouble for committed couples. The easiest way to make sure that you remove this uncertainty is to make your wishes clear in a will.