This article is for couples who are living together and may have children together, but who are not legally married or in a civil partnership.
It debunks the “common-law marriage” myth, explains what happens to your money and property if you die without a will, and covers all you need to know about providing for your partner after your death.
“Dying isn’t a nice thing to think about, but it’s never going to be nice”, explains Katherine, who is one of the rising number of people who is unmarried, but lives and owns a property with her long-term partner. They’ve recently welcomed a little baby too.
Although Katherine and her partner, Jon, have been diligent in how they’ve set up their home and finances, she remains unsure about what happens should one of them die. And, while Jon has a will, Katherine does not.
They’re far from alone; the number of unmarried, cohabitating families like Katherine and Jon has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. And yet, the law has yet to properly recognise them when it comes to death and inheritance.
Cohabiting couples do not inherit
Contrary to general belief, there is no such thing as a “common law” wife or husband, regardless of how long you’ve been together or if you’ve had children.
If you’re not married, and one of you dies, your partner receives nothing and everything goes to blood relatives. The government has a page explaining the succession of family members.
“If everything goes to my sisters”, says Katherine, “I trust that they’ll give it to Jon to help look after the baby”.
Katherine’s not wrong to trust her family, but her understanding of inheritance law isn't correct. Her estate would go her child in a trust, and her partner couldn't necessarily access it. Wills make everything totally clear, and ensure it’s straightforward for everyone.
Make a will to protect your property
Property is perhaps the key asset for cohabiting, unmarried couples to consider when drawing up wills. Inheritance of property will vary depending on how you’ve set up ownership. There are two ways to do this:
Joint Tenants. This means you both equally own the property, and your half automatically passes to your partner.
Tenants in common. This means you own unequal shares of the property, and your partner’s share will pass to their family. To ensure it does go to your partner, you need to leave it to them in your will.
Cohabiting couples who are left property (or shares of a property) worth over £325,000 have to pay inheritance tax. The law allows £650,000 inheritance tax free for married couples.
Make a will in minutes
Setting up home as a couple is an exciting step, and it’s no surprise that millions in the UK choose to focus on living their life together without making it “official”. But taking the time to write your will is the best way to continue to support each other, even in death.
Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash