Common law husband or wife is a term we quite regularly use to describe an unmarried couple living together. But what many people don’t realise is that this is not actually a term that’s recognised by the law.
This can in turn lead to confusion over the legal rights of cohabiting couples when it comes to inheritance, and why it is so important to think about when you’re thinking about your will.
Your spouse may inherit some, or all, of your estate if you died without a will. But ‘common law’ spouses do not have the same legal rights as married couples.
It’s therefore an important factor to consider when you are writing your will. This doesn’t just apply to you, but any beneficiaries who may be cohabiting but unmarried.
How to make sure your wishes are carried out
It’s important to be as clear as possible when expressing your wishes in your will. Crucially, if you are unmarried, your partner will not automatically inherit anything. You will need to specify what you want to leave to them. If they are financially dependent on you, they could bring a claim for financial provision if they don’t feel you have left them the right amount of support.
When you’re writing your will, it’s important to think about who is dependent on you, so they are provided for.
What to do when children are involved
There are so many different permutations here that you really need to understand fully what to include in your will. This is where it’s essential to take professional legal advice.
For example, you and your partner may both have children from previous relationships. You may also have children together. Or just one of you may have children.
It’s natural to want to leave your share of your property to your own children. But you’ll need to check the status of your ownership, so that the general law doesn’t overrule your wishes.
If you have Joint Tenancy, you will both have equal rights to the whole property. You can’t leave your share to anyone else and your partner will automatically inherit your share when you die.
If you are Tenants in Common, then you can leave your share of your home to whoever you wish.
Understanding your rights as a cohabiting couple will make writing your will much easier.
Lester Aldridge is a nationally recognised law firm with offices in London, Bournemouth and Southampton.
The Private Client team are leaders in their field. Kurt, Paula, Harriet and Melanie are specialist private client expertswith a wealth of experience in all areas of private client work from wills to tax, trusts and probate. If you would like more information, call 01202 786294