There appears to be a trend of couples living together without any intention of getting married. In this blog, I have looked in to the pros and cons of cohabiting vs marriage in terms of providing for a loved one long term.
Common law spouse
The first thing to mention is that the law does not recognise a ‘common-law spouse’ or, in other words, people who live together in a relationship but are not married.
The intestacy rules (i.e. what happens if someone dies without leaving a will) shows us that such a person would not benefit should their partner die without leaving a will.
If a couple own a property together, whether the other would inherit that share should someone die could depend on how they own it.
As discussed in Lianne’s blog, there are two ways of jointly owning a beneficial interest in a property; joint tenants or tenants in common.
If the property is owned as joint tenants, the deceased partner’s share of the property automatically passes to the surviving partner.
However, if the couple own the property as tenants in common, the deceased’s share of the property will form part of their estate and be distributed as per their will (or intestacy if there is no will).
Planning for the future
Without wishing to kill all romantic notions of marriage, there are some legal benefits of getting married to a long-term partner including:
- Spousal exemption: any money left to a spouse will not be liable for Inheritance Tax, regardless of value, until the death of the survivor (subject to there being rules for subsequent marriages)
- Transferable nil rate band: spouses can use of the first £325,000 of their spouse’s nil rate band
- Intestacy: should your spouse not leave a will prior to their death, the living spouse is entitled to the first £270,000 of the estate and half or the residue. The remaining half of the residue is then divided as per the intestacy rules.
Making a will
With the above in mind, it is important that unmarried couples consider preparing a will to ensure that the surviving partner is protected and provided for.
If you need any advice on this subject, our wills team can assist.