A guide to wills and estate planning for those who are cohabiting.
With couples who live apart recently being told to ‘make a choice and stick with it’ by the Government to comply with social distancing rules, thousands of cohabiting households were newly formed across the UK overnight.
While this is essential advice couples must follow to keep themselves and others safe, what does this mean for each individual when it comes to their personal affairs?
Getting your Will in order might not seem top of the priority list, but whether you’ve just met your partner and decided to join households or you’ve been together a while, a little planning now could save a lot of heartache further down the road.
To help both new and established cohabitees, we’ve answered some of your most common questions in this blog.
If we live together don’t we have the same rights as married couples or civil partners?
No. The misconception that couples who live together are bound under ‘common-law marriage’ and therefore have the same legal rights as married spouses or those in civil partnerships still exists.
Sadly, however long you’ve been living together or formally ‘cohabiting’ if you don’t have a Will in place your partner will not automatically inherit your money, property or any other assets you may have.
OK, I don’t have much though, why do I need a Will?
Even if you are relatively young, and don’t have many assets, anything you do have will automatically pass to relatives if you die ‘intestate’. When you really think about it, you may have more to leave loved ones than you first thought. Often personal belongings can hold a great deal of sentimental value. You might have strong feelings about who these are left to.
‘Intestacy’ is the term used to describe the estate (property, cash, investments, valuable belongings etc.) of someone who doesn’t have a Will. If you are intestate anything you have, including your share of a property you jointly own with a partner, will automatically go to your next of kin.
This means your siblings, parents or another blood relative could inherit your share of any property you own, bank accounts, savings and any other assets you have, instead of your partner.
This is why it’s important to have a Will so that you are in control of what happens to your estate and people know what your wishes are should the worst happen.
Can’t I just download a Will online?
You can. However, there are many organisations online that are not legally qualified but are still able to prepare wills and other agreements. With ex-partners, blended families and other family dynamics the new normal, Wills for cohabitees can be complex so it is best to work with a solicitor who can simplify things and ensure you are properly protected. They can also use their expertise to make sure your Will and other legal documents are updated to make the most of any new rules and regulations.
Where do I start?
Your solicitor should guide you through your own unique situation and make the process as easy as possible. However, there are a couple of key considerations which usually apply when preparing Wills for cohabitees.
Before you write your Will, it’s important to understand how your assets are owned. If you own a house together, how is it owned? Are you tenants in common or joint tenants? This can be a tick box piece of paper people quickly fill in when buying a house, already bombarded by paperwork. However, it can be really important further down the line.
The majority of couples we speak to that are unmarried but living together/cohabiting own their property as tenants in common. If you are tenants in common and you don’t have a Will, your share of the property will automatically pass to your next of kin (usually a blood relative) unless you have a Will.
It might be that you are joint tenants, in which case your share of the property will pass to your partner regardless of what your Will says. However, this is much less common and it is better to be safe than sorry.
Another consideration alongside your Will is to think about getting a cohabitation agreement. This documents your current set up and intentions around things like mortgage payments, children, pets and other joint concerns should the relationship end or break down.