A warning for cohabiting couples…

27 July, 2016

art crayon painting about the town and trees on white paper.

A common question, what are my legal rights if I am cohabiting and my partner dies?

The laws that govern cohabiting relationships have, and continue to be, widely debated. It is well documented that people in cohabiting relationships benefit from fewer legal rights than those who are married or in civil partnerships.

A recent case, brought by Joy Williams, has highlighted one of many difficulties that a cohabitee can face when the person they are living with dies.

Background

Joy Williams and Norman Martin had been living together for 18 years when Mr Martin sadly passed away. Ms Williams and Mr Martin owned a property which they held as tenants in common, which meant that on Mr Martin’s death his share of the property did not pass to Ms Williams automatically. Instead, it passed in accordance with the terms of his Will.

Unfortunately, Mr Martin had not updated his Will since he separated from his wife Maureen Martin nearly 20 years earlier. As a result, his interest in the property he had shared with Ms Williams for 18 years passed, under his Will, to his estranged wife, Maureen.

As a result, Ms Williams brought a claim against her late partner’s estate.

Decision

Ms Williams was successful in her application to the court and Judge Gerald agreed that it was “fair and reasonable” that Mr Martin’s share in the property should pass to Ms Williams, rather than to Mr Martin’s estranged wife. The court emphasised that, although not legally married, Ms Williams and Mr Martin had lived together “as husband and wife”.

The unfortunate circumstances of this case should act as a powerful warning for those in cohabiting relationships. At the very least, cohabitees should review their personal circumstances regularly keeping in mind the need to make and update their Wills and review how any joint property is held.

If you require advice on a dispute following the death of a relative or partner, please contact Philip Youdan at  philip.youdan@crippspg.co.uk.  For further information about Will disputes and disputes involving trusts and estates please click here to view our Guide to Will Trust and Estate Disputes.