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The rights of unmarried partners in inheritance disputes

According to the data published in 2018 by the Office for National Statistics the number of cohabiting couples in the UK who live together but are not married has increased by 25.8 per cent since 2008. It was also reported in February 2020 that almost half of the homeowners in the UK also did not have a will.

The common misconception is that unmarried partners may have legal protection similar to that of a married couple in the event one of them dies (i.e. that the survivor will inherit some or all of the deceased partner’s estate).

Unfortunately, common law marriage is not recognised in the UK, regardless of how long the unmarried couple cohabited.

Although some assets can pass to the unmarried partner without a Will (e.g. money in a joint bank account and property if it was owned with the deceased partner as ‘joint tenants’) it takes a degree of foresight and preparation.

What happens when one of the unmarried partners dies If there is no Will, the estate of the deceased partner will be distributed in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy.

Unfortunately, these Rules do not make any provision for unmarried partners. In the absence of a Will, the law steps in to provide a strict list of beneficiaries (which includes deceased’s children, parents and siblings) who will inherit from the deceased’s estate. This may seem unfair, especially where the deceased and their family members were estranged and often leads to inheritance disputes.

It is important to speak to a specialist legal advisor as soon as possible to get a better understanding of the type of claim the unmarried partner may have, the potential value of that claim and also to identify any time limitations to bring their claim against the estate. If the unmarried partner is successful in their inheritance claim, the Court has a wide discretionary power to make a financial provision to them from the deceased’s estate.

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “Inheritance Act”) The Inheritance Act provides the legal framework and an opportunity for an unmarried partner to bring their inheritance claim against their deceased partner’s estate where:

  • the deceased died without a Will and the Rules of Intestacy make no provision for the surviving partner; or

  • the deceased left a Will, under the terms of which the unmarried partner does not receive a reasonable financial provision.

There will be other relevant factors which will determine what the unmarried partner is entitled to and the level of financial need they have.

If you are considering to bring an inheritance claim against your partner’s estate, we strongly recommend that you get in touch with our Dispute Resolution team as soon as possible by telephone on 01823 251571 or e-mail to discuss how we can assist.


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