When somebody dies it is not always considered that their property may not pass to whom they wish. A recent case, involving a couple that were cohabiting, highlights this fact.
Mr Martin passed away unexpectedly in 2012. He had lived with his partner, Ms Williams for some 18 years in their 3 bedroom home in Dorset. They were not married. Following his death it was expected that his share of the property would pass to Ms Williams, but that was unfortunately not the case. When Mr Martin and Ms Williams purchased their property together they held it in Trust for each other as ‘Tenants in Common,’ meaning that the interest was divisible. This was as opposed to purchasing as ‘Joint Tenants,’ where one party automatically inherits the other party’s interest. It is not known why Mr Martin and Ms Williams decided to purchase their property as Tenants in Common. However, by doing so it meant that when one of them died their share of the property transferred to whom they had appointed as beneficiaries in their Will or, if no Will was in place, under the Intestacy Rules. Mr Martin had never divorced his wife nor updated his Will and therefore his interest in the property that he shared with Ms Williams reverted to his wife. This was a windfall for Mrs Martin as she inherited Mr Martin’s Estate and therefore owned one half of the property which Ms Williams occupied.
Ms Williams made a claim against the Estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 so that Mr Martin’s share of the property would pass to her and her future would be secured. Equally had the roles been reversed, Mr Martin would have had the same difficulties with Ms Williams’ Estate passing to her children or husband if she had not divorced.
Ms Williams had confined her claim to an absolute interest in the deceased’s one half share of that property. District Judge Gerald decided that the fair and reasonable result would be for Ms Williams to retain an absolute interest in the house as she and Mr Martin had shared a “loving and committed” relationship.
This case highlights the need for unmarried couples who live together to have up to date Wills and cohabitation agreements in place to ensure that their wishes are adhered to.