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Why wills for unmarried couples are essential

Unmarried couple living together

Do I need a will if I’m not married?

The short answer is ‘yes’. When someone has lived with their partner for many years, you may hear their relationship described as a common-law marriage. However long a couple has been together, this kind of relationship is not recognised by law, even if you have children or even grandchildren together; meaning the rights of common law partners following a death in the UK are close to none.

This means if you live with a partner, but are not married to them or in a civil partnership, they will not have any automatic claim to inheritance when you die. Even if you’ve been with them 10, 20 or 30 years, they won’t get anything from your estate if you die without a will, which could include things you personally owned, but shared together.

What happens if I don’t make a will?

In an interview with the Telegraph in 2016, Sally revealed how she had been left in turmoil after her partner of 25 years, Carl, had died without a valid will. With no legal right to any of Carl’s estate, Sally was facing the possibility of being unable to afford a home to live in.

She was left at the mercy of Carl’s children from a previous marriage who, according to intestacy laws, would inherit everything. They all agreed that Sally deserved some kind of provision, but disputes over how this should be done left Sally emotionally exhausted. In the end, it was agreed that a house would be bought for Sally to live in, but when she died it would be returned to Carl’s children. If Sally ever wanted to remarry, she would have to leave the house immediately.

What rights do common law partners have after a death in the UK?

Common law partners have no legal rights to inherit in the UK. The concept of a common law partner ceased to exist legally in the United Kingdom in 1753. Without a civil partnership or a marriage, you are not legally entitled to inherit if your partner dies through intestacy law, no matter how long you’ve been cohabiting.

What do unmarried partners inherit?

Unmarried couples will only inherit what is written in their partners will upon their death. Unmarried partners have no legal rights to inherit anything, unless jointly owned, if they have not been left anything in the will.

When someone dies without a will, intestacy laws come into play. These laws define who stands to inherit from the estate. Intestacy laws prioritise spouses and civil partners, children, and siblings, in that order.

Unmarried partners are not provided for, regardless of the period of time you lived together, or whether you have any children together – although your children will still be entitled to the estate’s assets.

Can an unmarried partner inherit?

There is one circumstance in which an unmarried partner would automatically inherit at least a portion of their partners estate.

If you and your partner bought your house together, you may have done so under a joint tenancy agreement, meaning you both owned the whole house, or as ‘tenants in common’ who had a half-share each.

The lack of legal rights of unmarried couples when one dies doesn’t change the fact that any jointly-owned property will automatically pass to the surviving owner following their partner’s death.

However, a house owned as ‘tenants in common’ will still be subject to intestacy laws if you partner dies without a will – meaning half the house could be inherited by someone else.

Are there any rights for unmarried couples if one dies?

Unmarried partners can make a claim to their partner’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. However, this can be a time-consuming and expensive process, and success is never guaranteed.

Can my partner inherit my pension?

A further financial worry for surviving partners is that unmarried couples are not entitled to receive their partner’s state pension or bereavement allowance after the death of their loved one, regardless of what you leave to them in your will. Many private pension schemes also exclude cohabiting partners.

How can unmarried partners be sure they will inherit?

For unmarried couples living together, writing a will is essential. Only by writing a valid will can you ensure your partner will be properly provided for after you die.

You can write your own, using a DIY will-writing kit with full instructions, which can cost from less than £10 online. You will need two witnesses, who will watch you sign your will and then sign it themselves, for it to be valid.

If your financial affairs are more complicated, for example if you have children from a previous marriage or own property abroad, it is advisable to consult a solicitor. Will writing services from solicitors usually start from between £200 to £300.

Once you’ve written a will, make sure you tell your partner where they can find it if you die unexpectedly. You don’t have to tell them what is written in it, but they will need to know where to find your will. You can also store your will with a solicitor.

Above all, don’t put off making these big decisions. Sadly, cases like Sally’s are becoming increasingly common as more couples choose to live together unmarried. Plan ahead now and you’ll feel reassured that the loved ones you care about most won’t have to endure the stress of financial worries on top of bereavement. For more information on managing your estate we have a whole range of helpful articles, including how to write a will and a guide to probate.