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01 February 2016

Protect your loved ones by saying “I Do”

February is the month for romance and, as 2016 is a Leap Year, it’s the perfect excuse for women to propose to their partners this Valentine’s Day.

Setting aside the hearts and flowers, there are very practical reasons for getting married. Many couples still believe that by living together for a certain amount of time they qualify as “common-law husbands and wives” and would inherit the family home and their partner’s estate in the event of a tragedy.

The truth however is different, as lawyer Vicky Johnson, at Buckinghamshire law firm B P Collins LLP, explains. “Even if you have lived together for many years and consider yourselves to be married in all but name, if one of you dies without a will, intestacy rules mean that it is the closest family who will inherit the estate, rather than the live-in partner,” she said.

“Therefore, one half of a couple could find themselves without a roof over their head or any money in the bank, while their partner’s parents or siblings inherit the house and everything that comes with it.”

Couples who live together are now the fastest growing family type in the UK and as inheritance and intestacy rules are so complex, it is especially important to take legal advice when children from different relationships are involved.

“If two individuals move into together and they have minor dependents from previous relationships, then those children would not automatically inherit under intestacy rules, unless they had been formally adopted by the other partner,” said Vicky.

“However, if those children - which have effectively become stepchildren - can demonstrate they have been financially maintained by the deceased, they may be able to challenge the intestacy ruling. Equally, if an unmarried couple has a child of their own and tragedy strikes, unless a will had been made, intestacy rules mean that that child would be the sole beneficiary, while the remaining parent could be left with nothing and be faced with making a claim against their own child’s inheritance."

Another reason to get married is Inheritance Tax (IHT). Gifts between spouses (either on intestacy or by will) are exempt from IHT, but gifts to a live-in partner are subject to IHT at 40% above the nil rate band of £325,000.  

Marriage aside, even where a will has been made, complications can arise.  For example, if one of a co-habiting partnership has made a will stipulating provision for his or her own children, then the partner’s offspring would not automatically be included. Presuming they were under 16, those children would have to make an official claim against the estate. Similarly, the live-in partner could, if no provision had been made for him or her in the other’s will, also make a claim.

“Given the many misconceptions about common-law marriages, there’s little doubt that a legal marriage is certainly a good first step in protecting your loved ones," concludes Vicky.  “Losing someone is hard enough, but if you also have to fight for what you believe is rightfully yours, it will be so much harder."

Speak with a legal expert at B P Collins LLP by calling 01753 279030 or email privateclient@bpcollins.co.uk.

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Email: enquiries@bpcollins.co.uk

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