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Winners and losers in the game of life

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This column was first published in the Wigan Observer on the 25th March 2014

Q: The latest lottery winner and his partner must be delighted with their £107million windfall. But the fact they’re not married has made me wonder about my situation…what would the legal position be if I were to come into some money or inheritance? Would my live-in partner be able to claim half of it?

A:You would think such a win would be fantastic wouldn’t you? Imagine all that money and no more financial troubles, even though I can imagine that having so much cash to deal with could cause problems in itself. Not having to worry where the next penny is coming from and being able to experience new opportunities on tap would leave most thinking that all their worries would be behind them.

However, it seems that the much publicised ‘curse of the lottery’ means that such a windfall doesn’t come without its costs in some cases. In November it was reported that Gillian and Adrian Bayford had separated having won £148 million on the lottery just 15 months earlier. In their case however, the fact they are married means that the couple are likely to share the benefits of their win fairly in the event of their subsequent separation. Regardless of whether Mr or Mrs Bayford was the owner of the winning ticket, the other partner will have the protections afforded by their marriage in the event there was ever a dispute.

In the case of Neil Trotter and his recent win, the situation is far less certain for his partner with whom it is stated he has been with for the last eight years or so. The fact that they have lived together for so long wouldn’t give his partner the same protection as she would have if married, regardless of the time they have been together.

It is said 3 in ten unmarried couples believe that if they live with their partner and even go on to have children with them, they’re protected by the notion of ‘common law’ – but there’s no such thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife. This means that unmarried couples have far less rights in respect to shared property and other assets than couples who are either married or in a civil partnership.

If Mr Trotter decided now was the time to pop the question to his partner, he would be well-advised to seek legal advice before he did and possibly consider obtaining a pre-nuptial (pre-marriage) agreement to protect his winnings in the event of later divorce. Not very romantic you might think, but something increasing numbers of individuals are seeking to do, particularly as people seek to marry later in life, having already financially established themselves.

For the time being however, if Mr Trotter and his partner were to separate now, she may have difficulty in establishing any interest in the money as it stands, unless perhaps she could prove that the money that purchased the ticket was from a joint account. Unlikely perhaps, if it was a cash payment to the corner shop from his own business earnings.

What is interesting is the report that Mr Trotter has a child from a former relationship for whom he intends to ‘buy a pony’. The child’s mother, if minded, would be able to apply for provision under Schedule 1 Children Act 1989. Reported cases of lottery or pools winnings are relatively rare. I was actually involved in a case some years back involving winnings from a football pools win where a married couple had not obtained a ‘clean break’ order despite their divorce some years earlier (just something else to make sure you consider if married).

Although not all of us are lucky enough to win the Euro Millions, many of us still have assets of value we would like to protect. When entering into a relationship it is common for couples to share their finances, however very few of us know how cohabitating couples assets would be divided if the relationship was to break down. With almost six million people currently cohabiting in the UK, it is becoming progressively more important that unmarried couples know their rights when it comes to protecting their assets.

To avoid future disappointment, unmarried couples are advised to enter into a cohabitation or Living Together Agreement. This contract, which can be drafted by a solicitor, outlines responsibilities such as bills and also sets out who will get certain possessions from the property if they were to split. It may save a lot of trouble and expense later.