In today’s society, there are an increasing number of couples choosing not to marry, and instead live as “cohabitees”. A recent report by the National Centre for Social Research, conducted at the request of the Law Commission, has found that only 37% of the people surveyed have made a Will. As a solicitor specialising in inheritance disputes, I found this to be quite an alarming statistic, knowing only too well how the absence of a Will can lead to heartache and legal battles after the death of a loved one.
Currently, if a person dies without leaving a Will, their estate passes under the rules of intestacy. It is a common belief amongst most cohabiting couples that if they are living as a “common law man and wife”, they will still inherit their partner’s estate. However, this is not the case, and under the current rules, the surviving partner would not be automatically entitled to anything.
Currently, if a surviving partner does not benefit under the intestacy rules, they have to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, for reasonable financial provision from the deceased’s estate. The research found strong support for cohabitees to be included in the intestacy rules, so that they do not have to go to these lengths to inherit some of their partner’s estate. I think that this is good idea, particularly in light of modern family dynamics, together with the number of people without Wills. The rights of a surviving partner would be far clearer if the intestacy rules were updated, and in my view would save numerous grieving partners the stress and cost of bringing a claim.
Unfortunately, this was only a research study and therefore nothing is yet set in stone to update the rules. Until the rules are changed, surviving partners will have to rely on bringing a claim, where the deceased’s family are not willing for them to inherit. Whilst this can be costly, often, cases such as these settle out of Court.
If you are in a situation such as this, and think that you might be able to bring a claim, you should contact our specialist contesting wills & probate team on 01616 966 229. You may be entitled to Legal Aid, subject to eligibility.