With the number of cohabiting couples rising, the Law Society has urged unmarried couples to update their Will and seek legal advice or risk losing everything in the event their partner dies.
With assets likely to go to children, estranged spouses, or – where close relatives are absent – the government, a long and stressful court battle could ensue.
A recent court case saw a bereaved woman, ‘JW’, fight tooth and nail for a share in a property after her deceased partner, ‘NM’, failed to update his Will or divorce his estranged wife.
The estranged spouse initially inherited NM’s share of a £320,000 property that he and JW had owned as tenants in common since 2009.
After JW issued a claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975, the judge ruled in JW’s favour. JW described the experience as ‘traumatic’ and raised questions as to why serious relationships are not recognised by law.
Lee McClellan a partner and specialist in contested Wills at Palmers, said: ‘This case is a timely and important reminder for cohabiting couples to ensure they have in place a valid and up-to-date Will.
“In particular, they need to seek expert legal advice regarding any co-owned property, if they intend their current partner to inherit upon their death.’
Last June, the Cohabitation Rights Bill began its journey through parliament aiming to provide some protection for cohabitees should their partner die but there has been little subsequent progress.
Latest figures released by the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of cohabitating couples accounted for 16.4 per cent of all families in the UK.
For advice on preparing or contesting wills, whether relating to cohabiting couples or otherwise, please contact us.