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Unmarried Couples and Inheritance Laws

Emma Weir, LLP Partner and Solicitor at Griffith Smith Farrington Webb

20th September 2017

It is a common misconception that an unmarried partner has similar inheritance rights to those of a spouse. The term ‘common law husband/wife’ does not have any legal standing no matter how long-term the relationship.

If an unmarried partner dies without making sufficient provision for their surviving partner in their Will then the survivor has no right to an inheritance from the estate under the existing intestacy rules. An unmarried partner is entitled to jointly owned assets only, including your joint property assuming you own the property as joint tenants. The intestacy rules then set down a hierarchy of family members who may benefit from the deceased estate.  If the deceased had children, the estate will pass to them when they are 18. If there are no children, the estate will pass to the deceased’s closest relatives, usually parents or siblings, but never to the surviving partner as they are not recognised under the current intestacy rules.

An unmarried partner would be entitled to bring a claim against the estate under certain circumstances but this can be very complex, expensive and stressful at a very difficult time following a bereavement.

Inheritance tax can also be a major problem for unmarried partners who own substantial assets. Where a spouse can leave everything to their surviving spouse without paying any inheritance tax, even if the estate is worth millions, anything left to an unmarried partner above the IHT threshold (currently £325,000) will suffer tax at 40%. Some careful thought and financial planning is required to mitigate this.

It is estimated that between half and two thirds of the adult population do not have a Will and that those who need one the most are the least likely to have made one. Often unmarried partners may have complex family situations such as cohabiting following a previous divorce or you both may have children from previous relationships. Equally you may still have maintenance obligations to a former spouse and be reluctant to marry again following your first experience. No matter how complicated your relationships it is imperative you protect your partner by making a Will.

If you would like to discuss your position in more detail, please contact our Tax, Trusts and Estates team on 01273 324041 or email enquiries@gsfwsolicitors.co.uk

Unmarried Couples and Inheritance Laws

Unmarried Couples and Inheritance Laws

Author: Emma Weir, LLP Partner and member of the Tax, Trusts and Estates Team.


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