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Changes to wills and inheritance laws leave common-law couples out of the loop

November 03, 2014  |   Posted by :   |   Blog

On the 1st of October 2014 changes to inheritance laws in England and Wales took effect, but the legal rights of common-law couples remained lacking in terms of automatic inheritance. The changes to intestacy rules, which determine who receives what when there is no will to provide guidance, will affect people who have over £250,000 in assets at the time of death. However, despite pressure from lawyers to award rights to cohabitees with children, or those who have lived together for more than five years, the laws remain the same, leaving ‘common-law’ partners with no legal protection if their partner dies. The current rules effectively mean that unmarried couples are treated as single people under inheritance laws, with assets being passed automatically onto blood relatives rather than a partner, even if a couple has children together.

For couples who are married or in civil partnerships, the changes largely affect those without children. Under previous rulings, if a couple had no children, the surviving spouse would receive the first £450,000 of the deceased partner’s estate and half the remainder. The other half would then be divided up and awarded to the deceased’s family members. From the 1st of October, the surviving partner will now receive the entire estate, meaning that any parents, siblings and other relatives of the deceased will not automatically receive anything unless specifically stated in the will.

For married couples with children, the new intestacy rules have abolished the life interest concept of inheritance. Under the old rules, the surviving spouse would receive the first £250,000 of their partner’s assets with any children receiving half of the remainder. Although the other half would also go to the children, the surviving parent would hold ‘life interest’ in the amount, enabling them to take an income from the money. The new rules state that children are now fully entitled to any assets over £250,000. An additional amendment to the rules surrounding children also ensures that adopted children retain their inheritance from biological parents even after they are adopted.

A will is an essential document that sets out who will receive your assets after you die. In light of unchanged policies surrounding cohabiting couples, it is even more important to draw up a will if you are unmarried. Common law marriage is essentially a myth when it comes to legal protection, and it’s vital that you state your intentions with regard to your estate if you want those you love to be provided for in the future. For help making a will, or for more information on wills and probate, make an appointment with Frances Lindsay & Co in Beaconsfield or Maidenhead. 

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