For many people, there is a misconception that unmarried couples or ‘’common law’’ spouses have the same rights as married couples. However, this is entirely incorrect, especially when the time comes to distributing assets when one of the partner’s passes away.

Instead, when one of the partners passes away without leaving a Will, there are legal rules that decide who is going to inherit the deceased’s assets and benefit from their estate. A legal partner such as the wife/husband or civil partner will be the primary beneficiary, followed by the children, parents and siblings.

However, common-law partners are not included in these laws, and neither are the children of the surviving spouse if they belong to a previous relationship, even if the child was brought up as the deceased’s children.


What happens if you’re not married and haven’t made a will?

If you are not married legally or have any form of civil partnership, then you are not automatically entitled to anything if your partner were to die. This highlights the importance of a Will if you want your partner to inherit your assets and what you own.

It is estimated that two-thirds of all adults have not prepared a Will, and the chances are that a high number of these are unmarried couples. Making a Will is crucial for protecting your current partner, especially if in a previous relationship you had children with your former spouse and hold maintenance obligations with them.

Having a Will to benefit your current partner will not prevent other dependent people, say your children, making a claim against your estate if they feel they were not adequately provided for.

However, an adult son or daughter cannot simply claim that, as a child, he or she expected to inherit. They would have to show that they are in financial need and that there were special circumstances. For example, these might be that the deceased made promises to them. Part of our free Will allows you to include any deliberate exclusions, this helps stop claims as it makes your intentions clear.


What happens to the property if we’re unmarried?

If you have a joint ownership property then this will pass to the joint survivor through land registry survivorship rules but this is dependent on how the property is legally held. For example, a home held as tenants in common shall be dealt as if each partner owned a specific portion of the house, thus, making it so that if your partner is not in your Will, your share of the house will not automatically pass to your partner but to one of your immediate family members.

However, tenants in common is a useful way of owning property when you do have a Will in place as it allows for more thorough protective planning within the Will. With the use of a Property Trust you can leave your share of the property directly to who you wish to eventually inherit (i.e. children) while making provisions for partners with a lifetimes interest in the property. This stops children being disinherited through marriage after death or surviving partners changing their Will to only benefit their own side of the family after one partner has passed away and they’ve become 100% sole owner of said property.


Does this mean they would not receive financial support?

Not if you were unmarried. Making a Will is extremely important for unmarried partners that want to ensure each other’s financial security and know they will be provided for, in case one was to pass away. At the same time, if you have children together, a Will can also ensure a guardian for the children and decide what should happen in case both partners passed away.

Similarly, there is no equivalent of a spousal allowance for unmarried partners when it comes to Inheritance Tax. Married couples are able to claim the relief their spouse did not use on their death and so between them the second one to pass away gets a tax free allowance of £650,000 (£1,000,000 with residential nil rate band)

Whereas partners are seen as individuals by the law and so are only able to claim £325,000 (£500,000 with residential nil rate band) tax free allowance.

This may make the use of Family Trusts very worthwhile on large estates as rather than giving all assets to each other directly, creating a large estate for a tax bill on the second partners death, rather giving the assets to a Trust fund which is instructed to benefit the partner but not included in their estate for IHT calculations.


Who inherits if an unmarried couple have a child?

If you and your partner have a child together out of marriage and never chose to get married, and you die without a will, it will mean your child will inherit everything you own.

If your child are still under 18, everything that you left behind will be held in a trust until your child is classed an adult. This is also another important reason for a Will if you intended for your partner to also be supported from your assets. Furthermore, any money you have left behind can and will be used for your child’s education and benefits, but it also means your partner won’t have any access to what is being held by the trust. This can cause complications if your partner was financial dependent.


Surely, this doesn’t happen every day?

The truth is that the number of unmarried couples cohabitating has double in the last 21 years to over 3.3 million. Then take into account the chances of one suddenly passing away, means many unmarried couples are left in a financially difficult situation.


Steps to organising your will

Once you have decided on creating a Will then it’s time to make it legal-binding. ZenWills is an online will supplier that makes the job simple.


Follow the 3 easy steps:

  1. Visit and create an account
  2. Fill and complete your details and name your guardians
  3. Print your will to be signed by yourself and two non-beneficiary witnesses to make it legally binding.


09.08.18 - Zenwills
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