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Cohabiting couples: how later life planning can help avoid costly contentious probate battles

The number of contentious probate matters involving unmarried cohabiting couples is rising across the country, solicitors have revealed.

But with cohabiting couples growing at a faster rate than any other family type, it is predicted that cases will only continue to rise.

In this blog, we are going to explore the myth around cohabitation and “common law marriage” and how later life planning could protect you from costly contentious probate battles.

What is “common law marriage”?

It is often believed that cohabiting couples are protected by “common law marriage”.

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t the case.

While married couples and those in a civil partnership are entitled to all manners of legal protections, cohabiting couples have fewer rights and less protection on separation or on death – such as sharing property, assets and pensions.

But due to the pervasive myth of common law marriage, cohabiting couples rarely consider the importance of later life planning.

What happens if my partner dies without a Will in place?

If your cohabiting partner dies and there is no Will in place (known as dying “intestate”), you are not automatically entitled to inherit anything from them – even if you share a family home, unless your name is on the title deeds.

In this case, you are required to make an application to court for provision from the estate as a dependent – but there is no guarantee that the court will consider your claim. The surviving family can also attempt to block your application, resulting in a costly contentious probate battle.

What is the solution?

While the Cohabitation Rights Bill is set to introduce new rights for “persons who live together or have lived together as a couple” and make provisions “about the property of deceased persons survived by a cohabitant; and for connected purposes”, it has yet to be approved by Parliament.

Even then, the best option is to make a Will. No matter your age or sex, a Will ensures that your estate is passed down exactly as intended – to your children, your family, and importantly, your surviving cohabiting partner.

Get expert advice today

For help and advice with related matters, please get in touch with our expert later life planning team today.

Mander Hadley

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