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According to a British Social Attitudes Survey conducted in 2008, it is a common but wrongly held view that unmarried couples who live together for some time (cohabitants) are afforded the same legal rights on death as married couples. Moreover, a recent survey by the National Consumer Council has also suggested that as many as 17% of cohabitants have not made a Will. This may leave families facing an uncertain future.
The intestacy rules, which dictate the order of distribution of a person’s estate in the event that they die without a Will, do not automatically recognise a cohabiting partner, despite a reform of the law in October 2014. It is unlikely in these circumstances, that a cohabitee would inherit their partner’s estate, particularly where the couple or deceased has children. Therefore, it is imperative for cohabiting couples to make Wills to protect themselves and their partners.
Equally, where marriage is being considered it is also important to consider the impact of the intestacy rules. Where the intestacy rules leave cohabitants vulnerable, the rules do provide that legal spouses are automatically entitled to at least £250,000.00 of the deceased’s estate.
Whilst this default position can be altered by a carefully considered and drafted Will, where one spouse is considerably wealthier than the other, has inherited family assets which they are keen to protect, has contributed significant sums to a property purchase without being named on the property Deeds, or has children from a previous relationship, it is advisable to consider a pre-nuptial agreement to safeguard each party’s assets in the unfortunate event of a relationship breakdown. Indeed, a 50/50 split of assets is not always the fairest outcome for both parties!
If you would like the opportunity to discuss your Will instructions, or would like further information on pre-nuptial agreements and tax planning, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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