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Do unmarried couples need a will?

View profile for Kathryn Loveland-Blockley
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Do unmarried couples need a will?

According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the number of cohabiting couples in the UK reached five million in 2020. However, without the proper forethought, many of these couples find themselves dealing with complicated legal battles when their partner has passed.

In England and Wales, there is a widely held misconception about the rights of a “common-law spouse” – where you live together without getting married. Unmarried couples don’t have an automatic legal right to inherit from each other. The only way to ensure your partner doesn’t lose out is to write a will.

When drafting a will for unmarried couples, it is essential to know what assets they own and how they are held. If they do not have a will, assets in the deceased’s sole name will pass under the rules of intestacy.

These intestacy rules determine how the estate of someone who dies without a will is distributed. This is decided by how you are connected (e.g. the deceased’s child/grandchild) and doesn’t take into account the closeness of their relationships or who needs it most. This can mean assets transferring to people that the deceased had not intended, but also can leave the surviving partner with nothing.

Therefore creating a will can provide security, not just for the surviving partner but, in some cases, for children too. As an example, if the deceased owned a property as a joint tenant with their partner (i.e. they equally own it together), the property would be passed onto the surviving partner. However, what if the deceased has children that are not the surviving partners? What inheritance will they receive of the property? On the surviving partner’s death, the property will pass under the terms of their will or the rules of intestacy if they do not have a will. This would then mean that the children of the deceased partner could lose out.

Another benefit of making a will with a law firm, such as Dutton Gregory, is that we can try and mitigate inheritance tax. Although we do not know what the tax rules will be in the future, or what the value of your estate will be, we can write a will based on your current circumstances and the current regulations. However, if wills are not drafted, or are drafted incorrectly, you could face an inheritance tax liability that you had not planned for. 

It is also important to note that a will you make as an unmarried couple will be automatically revoked by a later marriage or civil partnership. The only exception is if that the will was made ‘in contemplation’ of marriage, which we can cover with a clause in the will.

Writing a will, especially for unmarried couples, ensures your family are provided for and that your wishes are correctly in place and understood after your passing. It’s also always best to receive estate planning advice from an expert to make the most of what you leave your family.

Our team of tax, wills and probate experts are on hand to offer experienced and knowledgeable advice and support for any query you may have.

With our recent move to more modern and flexible offices at Regus Oxford Point in Bournemouth, as well as our offices in Poole and Hampshire, and with full virtual appointment capabilities, our team offer first-rate legal support in a safe and flexible environment that suits your needs.

To discuss your needs with one of our experts, contact us today:

T: 01202 315005

E: contact@duttongregory.co.uk