Do You Need a Will if You Want Your Common Law Partner to Inherit Everything?
Most of us understand a will as a way of assigning certain assets – whether money, property, or smaller possessions – to different members of the family, effectively offering an ‘instruction manual’ to spouses, children, grandchildren, and other loved ones who stand to be beneficiaries.
This isn’t far from the truth, but it’s also very misleading. It suggests that, if we don’t have any specific wishes and simply want everything to pass onto our next of kin, we don’t need to write a will at all.
It’s a real mistake to forgo creating a will just because we think we’re too simple to warrant one – particularly if the person you want to inherit your estate isn’t legally related to you.
What happens when you die without a will?
You are legally considered to have died intestate, meaning your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.
Under these rules, a person’s husband or wife will be the primary beneficiary. They stand to inherit the whole of the estate if you don’t have any children, or the first £250,000 of the estate if you do have children. This means that, if your estate is worth less than £250,000, your children won’t inherit anything anyway.
There are a few other caveats. If you are survived by parents or siblings, then they stand to inherit a portion of your estate if it exceeds £450,000, although your spouse will still inherit half of that remainder, too.
Intestacy is heavily prescriptive, and it precludes a lot of people from inheriting anything, no matter how strong your relationships were in life.
If a person is considered intestate, then that decision cannot be contested. Will dispute solicitors are there to legally challenge a will that is otherwise considered valid. They cannot help surviving relatives who are passed over by the rules of intestacy.
Do Common Law Partners Inherit the Same as Legal Spouses/Civil Partners?
The term ‘common law partner’ is quite often misused. People tend to think of a common law partner as someone with whom they are in a long-term relationship, living together, and possibly share children with. Some couples may never get married, and the term ‘common law partner’ tends to feel like the best fit.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a legal term, and even if a couple has been together for decades and share a home and children together, their relationship isn’t considered to be ‘common law’ in any legally meaningful way. In other words, they are not protected by the same legal rights married couples – or those in a civil partnership – are protected by.
This is particularly important to understand if you are planning to pass everything onto your life partner. If you die intestate, then your partner has no legal rights to inherit any part of your estate. If you own a home together, then your partner will only inherit your portion if you are beneficial joint tenants – tenants in common have no right to the other half of the property.
Instead, any inheritance (money – excluding joint accounts – property, businesses, and investments) will pass onto your children. If you have no children, then parents, siblings, and any nieces or nephews you have will inherit.
It’s unfortunate that so many people continue to believe their partner will simply inherit anything whether they’re married or not. Working with a solicitor to create a will is the only way to ensure your partner is financially secure after your death.