Living Together Without a Will – The Legalities

Jo Tinson

Written by Jo Tinson, Partner at Spire Solicitors LLP

Many couples are now choosing to live together before they get married, or are choosing to not get married at all. It is currently the fastest growing family type in the UK, with 3.3 million cohabiting couples recorded in 2017. However, even with this increase, cohabiting unmarried couples don’t have the same legal protection compared to married couples if someone dies.

When someone dies without making a Will, the laws of Intestacy will apply and your estate will be divided according to these fixed set of rules. This means your estate might not be divided the way you expect, or want. If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a Will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything- unless anything is owned jointly.

What happens to your house depends on how you and you partner own it. If you and your partner own your home in equal shares as Joint Tenants, your property will automatically go to your partner if you die. However if you own your home in equal or unequal shares as Tenants in Common, then the property will not automatically go to your partner if you die. Instead it would pass into your estate and be inherited under the Rules of Intestacy. This could mean that your partner would share ownership of their house with your relatives.

If anything should happen before either of you make a Will, your partner can make a claim to your estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. However this can be a time-consuming and expensive process and success is never guaranteed.

For unmarried couples living together, writing a Will is essential and is the only way of ensuring your partner will inherit anything you wish. It will avoid uncertainty for your partner and helps to prevent the stress and worry for your family at an already difficult time. There is often the temptation to seek a self-written Will, however we would advise against this option. Whilst a Will can on the face of it seem simple, there are a number of pitfalls for the untrained eye and unfortunately the impact of those pitfalls often do not come to light until it is too late.

If you would like to discuss any points in this article further, please contact Spire Solicitors LLP on 01603 677077 for all your legal needs.