Financial rights when living together
What are your rights when living together
Helen Gott – Wills & Probate – Emsleys
One of the most common misconceptions I encounter in practice is the myth of common law marriages.
Many of us cohabit with long term partners and a lot of people feel quite strongly against marriage – I’ve heard the phrase ‘it’s only a piece of paper’ quoted by clients as a reason for not getting married. Also, in these uncertain economic times, people are understandably cautious about spending thousands of pounds on a wedding day.
With divorce stats making for grim reading, clients choose the option of living together without any further thought as to how they would be legally protected if either party were to die.
Recent research carried out by the National Centre for Social Research and the University of Exeter found that 46% of people in England & Wales believe in common law marriage.
The sad reality is that there is no concept of a common law marriage when it comes to inheritance laws. The laws which govern inheritance when people die without a Will were written in 1925 and have not been updated since.
The law therefore doesn’t recognise cohabitees, as in 1925 there would have been social stigma around cohabiting and the legislation has not been updated to reflect the change in attitudes in society.
Clients are often surprised at this as they believe that common law marriages will protect their legal rights.
I have sadly encountered numerous cases where a partner has died and their assets have passed to their parents or children, leaving the surviving partner with nothing. The legal fall out, not to mention the emotional fall out, can be devastating at a time when people need it the least.
For any couples who are cohabiting, it is important that they have Wills in place setting out what would happen in the event of a death. A Will allows clients to specify how their assets are distributed on death and allows couples to discuss what they would like to happen should that situation arise