There are over 3.3 million cohabiting couples living in the UK. It is a common misconception that the term ‘common law husband and wife’ has some sort of legal status and, in turn, that either party has rights akin to those obtained by marriage by reason of the fact that they are simply cohabiting.
The fact is that cohabiting couples have fewer rights, for instance, they have no automatic right to inherit each other’s estates and they have fewer pension rights.
On the death of one cohabiting partner the lack of a statutory right to an inheritance can and often does, lead to financial hardship for the surviving partner.
It is therefore essential that cohabiting couples make a Will if they wish to ensure that the surviving partner inherits anything at all without the need to make a formal claim against the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.
There may be good news on the horizon. On 2nd October 2018 the government announced that it intends to change the law to allow heterosexual couples to enter into a civil partnership.
The law may be about to be changed following a Supreme Court decision (R v Secretary of State for International Development ) which held that English law discriminates against heterosexual couples and is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights in not allowing opposite sex couples the right to enter a civil partnership.
Same sex couples have had the right to form a civil partnership since 2004 and therefore have had enhanced inheritance rights than heterosexual couples.
The government intends to bring about the changes as quickly as possible following a consultation but there is currently no time line for any changes to be implemented.
In the meantime any cohabiting couples should still ensure that they have adequate Will arrangements in place by contacting Howells Wills, Trusts and Probate team on 0114 249 6666 or email [email protected]