Cohabiting Couples – The Importance of Making Wills

A report published by the Office for National Statistics suggest that the proportion of people who identify as “cohabiting: never married or civil partnered” rose to 9.5% in 2005*. Despite the significant number of couples choosing to live together without marrying, the intestacy rules still make no provision for cohabitees following the death of one partner.  These couples must be reminded of the importance of making Wills to ensure their affairs are in order in the event of their death.

It is a common mistake for cohabiting couples to consider themselves ‘common law spouses’ and believe they have the same rights as married couples. Regardless of the length of the relationship, Common Law Marriage is a myth.  The law treats unmarried couples differently to those who are married, particularly upon death.  Equally, there is often some confusion amongst cohabitees believing they are ‘civil partners’.  A Civil Partnership is (or was) the equivalent of marriage for same-sex couples before the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 came into force.   Unmarried heterosexual couples are not and can never be ‘civil partners’.

When someone dies without leaving a Will, they die ‘intestate’. The law in this area, known as the ‘Intestacy Rules’ dictates what happens to the deceased’s estate and who is entitled to administer it.  The Intestacy Rules make no provision at all for cohabitees or unmarried partners.

Issues can arise where a couple’s home is owned in the sole name of one partner. Without a Will, on the death of the property-owner, the surviving partner has no legal right to live in the property.  Had they made Wills, provision could have been made granting the survivor a right of occupation for as long as they require, but the property could ultimately be protected for other beneficiaries such as children.

Matters can be complicated even further where partners have their own children from a previous relationship.   It is important for couples to make Wills to ensure their wishes are carried out and to mitigate any fall-out after their death.  Unfortunately, even the strongest of family relationships can break down when faced with bereavement and once money is involved.

I cannot stress enough the importance of making Wills. It is the only way for unmarried couples to ensure that their wishes are carried out and their loved ones are provided for after their death.  At Forbes Solicitors, our team of experienced Wills, Probate and Trusts Solicitors can provide advice tailored to individual circumstances and assist with putting your affairs in order.

Should you require any further information, please contact Lorraine Wilson in our Wills, Probate, Tax and Trusts Department on freephone 0800 975 2643 or send any question via our online contact form.


*Office for National Statistics: Population estimates by marital status and living arrangements, England and Wales: 2002 to 2015 (July 2016)

This entry was posted in Wills, Tax, Trusts and Probate.