The inheritance rules when you’re not married

The inheritance rules when you’re not married or in a civil partnership

Let’s be clear.  If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, then under inheritance law, you have no legal status.

I know that sounds harsh, but there is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding this subject, so let’s rule out some of the myths and make sure we are all fully aligned.

Marriage isn’t for everyone.  Many couples are happy just living together, without signing any legal documents.

However, one thing to be aware of, if this is you, is that under the inheritance law you would have no legal rights to your loved one’s valuable assets should they pass away.  This could put you and your future at risk.

Under these circumstances, if there is no will in place, the estate of the deceased would be passed on in accordance with the rules of intestacy.

In this case, your estate will pass on as follows (in priority order):

  • Children / grandchildren
  • Parents
  • Siblings (or their children)
  • Half-blood siblings (or their children)
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles and aunts (or their children)
  • Half-blood uncles and aunts (or their children)
  • The Crown, Duchy of Lancaster or Duchy of Cornwall (dependent on where the deceased died).
The inheritance rules when you’re not married

It’s also important to understand, who, other than unmarried partners, WILL NOT inherit under intestacy rules, as this is widely misconstrued:

  • Relations by marriage
  • Close friends
  • Carers

There is an expression for cohabiting partners that is often bandied around called “common-law” partners.  Many people believe that if you’ve lived with someone for a certain length of time that you’re automatically entitled to inherit should they pass away. This is not true.

However, if the survivor is financially dependent on the deceased, they could make a claim under The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.  The factors the court will take into consideration include the length of cohabitation and the degree of financial dependency.  This can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

Also, it is often believed that because someone, who is not a relation, has cared for them during their lifetime, that they would inherit in the absence of any family.  Again, this is not true.

The inheritance rules when you’re not married

Special consideration needs to be given to property.  If the home is held jointly, as “joint tenants”, the property passes by survivorship and the survivor therefore owns the entire property.

If your property is held jointly as “tenants in common”, this means that each tenant owns a defined share in the property (usually 50%, though this can vary).  In this case, on the death of the first tenant, his or her share in the property will pass in accordance with his or her Will or intestacy.

The inheritance rules when you’re not married

Making a Will really is the best and easiest way to ensure that those close to you are looked after when you pass away.

No one wants to have “that chat” with their loved ones but I can’t emphasise enough how important this is.  The grief of losing someone close to you is immense.  Combine that with complex legal issues and this is not a good place to be.