Your Rights as a Common Law Partner After Death

If you live with your partner, you might think that you have certain legal rights. After all, you share a home and a life together – you may even have a family.

There are many others who may think the same way. In 2018, according to the latest statistics, the UK had 3.4 million couples living together without being married or in a civil partnership. This had risen from 2.7 million in 2008.

But when it comes to these so-called common law partnerships, there are very few legal protections.

Common law partnerships

In UK legislation, common law partnerships and marriages don’t exist. The only legally recognised relationships between couples are marriages and civil partnerships. This means there are no legal rights for common law partners – including after death.

You may think that as you are a common law partner, you would be entitled to your other half’s assets after death – and vice versa. There are many times you might find yourself being referred to as a common law partner – for example, on insurance quote forms – which could give you the impression that your relationship is protected by law.

But this is generally not the case.

What are my rights as a common law partner after death?

Unfortunately, there are very few legal rights that you have when your common law partner passes away. Legally, you won’t be entitled to receive any of their assets unless they have named you as a beneficiary in their Will.

This is why it’s so important to make a Will when you are not married or in a civil partnership with your partner. Setting out what you want your partner to inherit will protect them from not receiving anything when the rules of intestacy apply.

If your partner dies intestate – which means without a valid Will in place – you won’t receive any of their assets. They will automatically go to your partner’s surviving relatives. If they have any children, they will receive your partner’s estate. If they don’t have children, their parents will inherit it. If their parents are no longer alive, it will go to their siblings. If your partner has no surviving relatives, everything will be passed to the Crown.

Common law partners do not receive anything after death through the rules of intestacy. So the only way of securing any rights after your partner dies is to ensure they have a Will stating that you should inherit their estate.

What happens to joint assets?

When you have joint assets – such as bank accounts – you will be entitled to your share after your partner’s death. However, your partner’s share may be claimed as part of their estate and then passed down to surviving relatives. When your partner has their own separate bank account, you will not be allowed to access it. Meanwhile, surviving partners in marriages or civil partnerships will often be able to access and withdraw their partner’s balance, providing it is under a certain amount.

If you own property with your partner as joint tenants, then it will be transferred to you after their death. This means that the rules of intestacy do not apply.

But there is a difference if you own your property with your partner as tenants in common. This will mean that their share of your home will be passed on to beneficiaries named in their Will or to their surviving relatives under the rules of intestacy. This will result in you owning the property with someone else.

This is why it’s vital to ensure that if you own your home as tenants in common, you and your partner have both named each other as beneficiaries of the property in your Wills.

Can my rights as a common law partner be protected?

The government is trying to provide more protections for common law partners. The Cohabitation Rights Bill is currently in the early stages of passing through Parliament, with a first reading having taken place in February 2020.

It is intended to offer “certain protections for persons who live together or have lived together as a couple,” as well as to allow provisions for the property owned by a deceased person who has been survived by their common law partner.

A cohabitation agreement may also offer you certain protections, but these are more commonly used to ensure you still have rights to your home and other assets after a separation.

The most effective way of ensuring you and your partner are provided for in the event of either of your deaths is to make a legally binding Will. This will let you set out exactly who you want to inherit your assets and make sure you protect your partner’s rights.

If you want to make sure that your rights as a common law partner are protected after death, First4Lawyers and our expert solicitors can help you.

To find out more about your options, just give us a call, request a call back or make an enquiry online.


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