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The Central London County Court made a momentous decision in February when the judge decided that a cohabiting partner could inherit a share of her partner’s estate despite this by law favouring his estranged wife. Ms Joy Williams had lived together with Mr Norman Martin for 18 years, but Mr Martin was still technically married to another woman, Mrs Martin.

Although Ms Williams and Mr Martin had been together for nearly two decades, Ms Williams had no automatic right to inherit any of Mr Martin’s estate, but his estranged wife legally did have a right. The legal rights for cohabiting couples in England and Wales differ greatly in comparison to married couples or those in civil partnerships, and no, there is no such thing as ‘common-law marriage’ no matter how long you have been living together for.

A cohabiting couple have:

  • No automatic entitlement to your partner’s property if they die
  • No automatic entitlement to inherit any other part of your partner’s estate
  • No tax reliefs and exemptions including pensions, that spouses and civil partners have

These rights don’t change even if you have children. The only way to get round these lack of rights is to make your wishes perfectly clear by making a Will…and keep it up to date!

Mr Martin did have a Will, unfortunately it didn’t reflect his current life and circumstances and was therefore not much use to those he left behind who ‘should’ have inherited. He hadn’t updated his Will to accommodate his relationship with Ms Williams, which would have saved a lot of turmoil and expense.

Ms Williams made a claim against the estate which was handed to Mrs Martin, citing that her security and future were in jeopardy. The judge ruled that Mrs Martin should pay Ms Williams £100,000, which the estranged wife plans to appeal against.

Lesson to be Learned – Up-to-Date Will!

This whole stressful court proceeding could have been avoided if Mr Martin had updated his Will in the 18 years he had been living with Ms Williams. Although the judge has made this momentous decision in favour of the person who isn’t protected by law, the ordeal isn’t over yet if Mrs Martin plans to appeal. This case highlights the absolute importance of keeping on top of your financial affairs and future plans, ensuring those you wish to inherit are in the position to do so.

Ms Williams said it was traumatic that long-term cohabitees aren’t recognised by the law. There is a new bill, the Cohabitation Rights Bills, which is passing through parliament and aims to protect those who are living together long-term who aren’t married or in a civil partnership. This bill hasn’t been passed yet so it remains to be seen if the rights of a cohabiting couple change in the future.

How can Gorvins help?

Here at Gorvins, we have an experienced and trusted team of wills and estate dispute solicitors who can help make a claim against an estate you think is unfair. Our wills, trusts and probate team can help you to draw up a will to make all your final wishes crystal clear and also update those that need to reflect your current circumstances.

Contact us on 0343 507 5151 or email actonit@gorvins.com.