We acted for a lady whose partner died following a short illness. They owned a property together and had been in a relationship spanning 20 years. The couple had never married and always believed that their estates would pass to each other regardless. However, the concept of “common law marriage” is a myth.
The man died without leaving a will and our client, the surviving partner, did not automatically inherit anything. Whilst their property was jointly owned, the legal title was held as “tenants in common” which meant that the deceased’s half share passed under his estate as opposed to by survivorship to his partner. Both had children from previous marriages.
As the deceased had not made a will, he was what is known as an “intestate person”. A set of rules called the “intestacy rules” were applied to share out his estate. Under those rules, the deceased’s two adult children were due to inherit their father’s entire estate, including his half share of the property, which was worth in total circa £400,000.
This would have left the surviving partner in a dire financial position and potentially homeless, so she sought our advice. We were able to negotiate a settlement with the deceased’s two children by which they were prepared to give up a share of their inheritance to gift our client a lump sum of money which then enabled her to re-house.
This case highlighted the importance of leaving a will. A great deal of stress was caused and a large amount of costs were incurred in negotiating with the deceased’s children, at a time when both parties were trying to grieve the death of a loved one. Whilst in this case it was not necessary to issue court proceedings, frequently it is, particularly if the relatives are not quite so accommodating, in situations whereby if a simple will had been put in place during a lifetime, it would have saved a whole array of problems.