A Guide to Common Law Partner Rights After Death in the UK

Common law partners are becoming more and more customary in the United Kingdom and around the world. However, while many may not see the benefit of following the traditional route and getting married, it’s vital that you at least have an understanding of common law partner rights after death. Without this, you may leave your partner vulnerable should the worst happen.

In this blog we will help to educate on the ‘common law partnership’ phenomenon, detailing what it is, what their rights are, and much more:

What is a Common Law Partner?

Technically, a ‘common law partner’ does not legally exist in the UK. The term was originally coined by the media to refer simply to an individual in a long-term relationship that is cohabiting in one address with their partner on a full-time basis. 

While it is not an official legal term, the practice is widely and ubiquitously referred to as cohabitation with a common law partner. 

What are Common Law Partner Rights? 

Partners who have not legally married do not, under any circumstances, have the same legal rights in family law as a married couple or civil partnership. This will often lead to huge amounts of stress and confusion should the relationship end for any reason or if either side of the couple were to die. 

There is a fairly commonly held misconception surrounding couples who have been in a relationship and lived together in a property that they co-own for a number of years. This misunderstanding is based on the belief that long-term cohabiting partners can gain similar rights to common law spouses after a period of time. This is not the case, and this belief can actually be dangerous. 

This danger comes from many of these people living with a false impression of how common law partner rights after death work. Unmarried couples who cohabit will not see any reason to take appropriate steps to ensure that their position is secure should the worst happen. 


What are Common Law Partner Rights After Death? 

The legal right of a common law partner upon the death of one half of the relationship will heavily differ to those of a married couple. Essentially, unless your partner leaves a will indicating that they wish for elements of, or their whole estate to pass to you, you will not automatically inherit any of their estate. 

While your rights are minimal, in some cases you may be able to make a claim at court against your deceased partner’s estate. This type of claim will only apply if no provision has been made for the surviving partner in the deceased’s Last Will and Testament. However, even with this court action, a common law partner will not be treated the same way as a spouse, so you could only likely expect minimal provisions.

So What Happens if an Unmarried Partner Dies Without a Will? 

If one half of a common law partnership were to pass away, then they and their estate would both be deemed to be ‘intestate’. This means that the person that ultimately inherits their estate will be dictated by the laws of intestacy — with no consideration for what they may have wanted. 

Under the rules of intestacy, the estate of a deceased person without a legally binding last will and testament will be passed to their loved ones in the following order: 

  • Married Partners/Civil Partners: A married or civil partner will only inherit under the laws of intestacy if they are officially in the partnership at the time of the deceased’s death. Anybody who’s relationship with the deceased has ended will not be eligible to inherit anything. 
  • Children: In the absence of a surviving spouse or civil partner, children of the intestate will inherit the estate. In the event that there is a surviving spouse/partner, the children will only stand to inherit if the estate exceeds a certain amount (above £270,000). Children from a previous relationship (or who were adopted) will be expected to receive equal shares. 
  • Grandchildren: A person’s grandchildren and great grandchildren will be eligible to inherit in the event that their parents are deceased. 
  • Parents: In the absence of a spouse/civil partner or children/grandchildren, the parents of the deceased will inherit. 
  • Siblings: If parents have also passed, the estate will pass on to the deceased party’s brothers and sisters. If a sibling has already died, their children will inherit their share instead. 
  • Half-Siblings: In the absence of any siblings, the estate may be passed to a half-brother/sister. The above rules regarding nieces and nephews also apply here. 
  • Grandparents: If still alive at the time of death, and next in line, your grandparents may inherit in equal shares. 
  • Aunties and Uncles: If there are none of the above present, the estate will pass to any surviving aunties and uncles (or their children, should they have passed away). 

As you can see, the purpose of intestacy is to ensure that, eventually, a person’s estate can be passed on to the important people in their life. However as you may have noticed, nowhere on the list above does it mention a common law partner. This is because the only reliable way for an unmarried partner to inherit is via an official will. They will not be eligible to receive anything during the intestacy process.


Stay Protected With Just Wills and Legal Services 

If you are living in a common law partnership, and you have no immediate intention or plans to marry, it is absolutely vital that you get your affairs in order immediately. 

The facts of what happens if your unmarried partner dies without a will are as follows: 

  • A large amount of financial security will likely be lost. This is most true if one half of a relationship earns more than the other — and is particularly important if one half of a couple stays at home to look after children.
  • If you live in a home that was owned by the deceased you could be forced out. Additionally, if you jointly owned the property, depending on if it is owned jointly or as tenants in common, or if there is an outstanding mortgage not covered by insurance, you could be forced to either sell your share or buy the deceased’s from whoever inherited it.
  • If your common law partner was separated without having finalised their divorce, this former spouse could have grounds to dispute the deceased family. This will likely only further affect you and any share you may receive. 

No matter what your plans are for the future, if you want to make sure that your common law partner will be protected and accounted for after you are gone, you need to get in touch with a legal professional today. 

Just Wills and Legal Services’ specialist team have years of experience and have seen it all when it comes to will writing and estate planning. If you aren’t 100% confident when it comes to preparing your last will and testament, it’s vital that you contact somebody who is — somebody you can trust. 

Our will writing service is designed to cover all bases, so whether you need to create a will for the first time or you want to update yours following a divorce or other life event, get in touch today.

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