Cohabitation and Inheritance: What's the Law?

If you co-habit with your partner but are not married, it’s essential to understand the implications of this in your will. The phrase ‘common law wife/husband’ may put you under the illusion that after a certain time period, your partner will have the same legal status as a spouse, but this is an urban myth. Couples who live together do not automatically have the same rights as a married couple or those in a civil partnership.

It is of utmost importance to ensure that your will is updated to include your present partner. This is especially true if you have separated, but not divorced from, your spouse.
 

A Recent News Case

Debate over whether the law regarding unmarried couples should be updated has been sparked by the recent case of Joy Williams. Ms Williams lived with her long-term partner, Norman Martin, who passed away before he had updated his will or divorced his wife, from whom he had separated many years ago.

Mrs Martin, Norman’s estranged wife, initially inherited the £320,000 share of a property. However, he and Williams had owned the property as tenants in common since 2009, and had been in a relationship for over eighteen years.

Williams described the fight for a share in their property as ‘traumatic’ and was put in a position where she may have lost her home and been unable to plan for the future. It has raised questions over whether the law must be updated in accordance with today’s trend for long-term cohabitation; especially since so many people believe the ‘common law’ spouse urban myth to be true.  

While Joy Williams eventually won the case and was able to keep the property, this does not necessarily mean that the same will happen for all similar cases. It is best to err on the side of safety and update your will.

See more information on the case here.
 

Updating Your Will

Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society, has said: “This case is an important reminder for unmarried couples to make sure they have a valid and up-to-date will, and to seek expert legal advice regarding any co-owned property, if they intend their current partner to inherit upon their death.”

If your circumstances or relationships change, it is essential to update your will to reflect your wishes, so that you can be assured that your assets will pass to the individuals of your choosing.

We would be happy to guide you through the process of writing or updating your Last Will and Testament. Please contact us if you would like to know more about the services we offer.


Article Disclaimer

This article is for general information only and does not constitute specific advice.  You should not rely on the information in this article.  Fiona Bruce Solicitors recommends that you seek our specific advice if you wish to rely on the any part of this article.  Whilst Fiona Bruce Solicitors makes every effort to ensure that the article is accurate, Fiona Bruce Solicitors excludes all liability for claim, loss, demands or damages of any kind whatsoever (whether such claims, loss, demands or damages were foreseeable, known or otherwise) arising out of or in connection with the use of this article or any other information contained on this website.  Any information provided only applies to England and Wales.

Posted on March 10, 2016 and filed under Personal, Family.