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Cohabitees & Death: An Unfortunate Series Of Events

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

Between 1996 and 2017 the number of cohabiting couples more than doubled.

Published figures show that in 2017 3.3 million cohabiting couples were living in the UK.

The rise in cohabitees has many reasons including a drop in the number of couples getting married in a more secular society and the fact we are living longer. Older people may form new relationships on the death of a spouse but they often choose not to marry again.

If cohabiting couples do not take careful steps to plan, the death of one of them may lead to a whole host of problems for the survivor.

Take the fictional couple Bill and Mildred. Both were married before and survived their respective spouses. Bill has three grown children, Mildred has two.

After they met Mildred sold her house and moved in with Bill.  They made the most of their new lives together, spending Mildred’s money on wonderful holidays and living on Bill’s pension.

When Bill dies, however, his Will has not been changed and everything goes to his three children. Mildred is left high and dry.

Poor Mildred is now dealing with the death of the second love of her life, the fear that she will have nowhere to live, no money to live on and three not-quite stepchildren who want to come into her “home” and clear out Bill’s belongings, including  the TV, the armchair that she usually sits in and Bill’s car.

The law will help Mildred. Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, she has a claim as she has been living with him for more than two years. She was clearly dependant upon Bill so Mildred can claim “reasonable provision”.

What that means is practice though, will vary. It may mean a life interest in Bill’s house – she can live there as long as she needs to but she will need to insure and maintain it.

Can she afford to?

How often will Bill’s children insist on checking that the property is in good condition?

It could mean a sale of Bill’s house and a life interest in a smaller, “more suitable” property.

Does Mildred want such upheaval?

The children can still insist on checking up on things.

Mildred may need financial provision to meet the monthly outgoings.

Will the money stretch?

There is no “spare” for any nice extras.

And Mildred knows that she and Bill have spent all of her money on the lovely holidays they took. She has great memories but no funds now to leave to her own children when she dies.

Such worries can be avoided with a carefully drafted – and regularly reviewed – Will.

How different it would be if Bill and Mildred pooled their finances, jointly owned the property as tenants-in-common and left life interests to each other in their Wills.

Then when Bill died his beloved Mildred would not have had to fight for a roof over her head and they each could ensure their children would ultimately inherit a share of the joint estate each.

That would be a happy ending.

As rates of cohabitation rise, so couples need to be sure they have thought through the “what ifs”. The myth of “common law marriage” is just that and couples well advised to look ahead.

If you would like help arranging a Will, please contact our Specialist Team