If a person dies without making a valid will, any assets they have will pass under the rules of intestacy which specify which people will get what amounts. However, the list of potential beneficiaries only includes family members, meaning an unmarried partner will not automatically receive anything from the estate.
There may be an exception if any property is jointly owned, such as the home the couple live in. A property can be held jointly in one of two ways – if a couple hold as joint tenants, the whole property will automatically pass to the survivor when one dies. However, if the property is held as tenants in common, the deceased’s share would again pass under intestacy rules if there is no will.
This can lead to the surviving partner being left in a very difficult position. It is likely that they will be forced to sell their home in order to pay the half share to the deceased’s family. To avoid this, the Inheritance (Family and Dependants) Act 1975 allows an unmarried partner (along with various relatives and dependants who may not be adequately provided for under a will or intestacy rules) to bring a claim.
To be covered under the Act, the couple must have been living in the same household as husband and wife (including same-sex couples) for at least 2 years immediately proceeding the deceased partner’s death. The surviving partner would have to show that intestacy rules do not make reasonable provision for them. When assessing this, the court will have regard to several factors, including:
If the court grants an award such as a lump sum, a property or regular payments, the assets will come out of the deceased’s estate and therefore less would go to those who would be entitled under intestacy rules. Because of this, the court will also have to have regard to the needs and resources of any existing beneficiary.
The costs of an action can largely be paid out of the estate, but again this will reduce the inheritance of anyone who would have received assets under intestacy and/or the claimant. To avoid the time, cost and stress of court proceedings, unmarried couples are strongly advised to make a will and decide in advance exactly who they want their assets to go to.
Andrew is a Commercial & Employment Law solicitor in Leicester. Our Solicitors in Leicester are experts in their fields and dedicated to quality client care. If you would like to find out more about our solicitors in Leicester please contact us.
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