Inheritance Rights of Unmarried Couples?

January 4, 2012 Hull & Hull LLP Common Law Spouses Tags: , , , 0 Comments

A recent English article reports that its Law Commission recommends that unmarried couples who have lived together for five years or more should be able to inherit from each other without writing a Will. The author notes certain other recommendations, contained in the Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill:

·                    the entitlement should be applied after two years of cohabiting if a couple has a child, providing the child was living with the couple when one parent died;

·                    qualifying cohabitants should have the same entitlement under the intestacy rules as a spouse; and

·                    if the deceased has a husband or wife from a "fossil" marriage – where a couple are living apart but have never divorced – the surviving cohabitant has no entitlement to any of the estate.

The Law Commission apparently notes that cohabiting couples are among the people least likely to have a will. Under the current English intestacy laws, similar to our legislation, property is passed on to family members in order of closeness of the blood relation. However, like our system, unmarried partners are currently not entitled to the deceased partner’s property, but can apply to court for support. That said, this can be a costly and time-intensive process. I have always found it unfortunate in cases where long-time common-law spouses had to bear the expense and emotional drain of fighting for their dependant support award.   

Given the reality here and abroad that cohabiting unmarried couples represent an increasing percentage of families, this type of legislative change may soon be solidified in the United Kingdom and make its way to us. It seems from the comments I read about this article that people are divided on the subject. I, for one, think that it is time for this type of review, especially if it could lead to a reduction in or narrowing of the types of dependant support claims we see in our system.

Thanks for reading,

Natalia R. Angelini – Click here for more information on Natalia Angelini

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