Living together & bereavement – do you have any rights?

Many believe that if they live together long enough, they become married in ‘common law’. This is not the case.

So what happens if you are not married or in a civil partnership, and your other half dies? Although discussing future inheritance can be uncomfortable, a sudden bereavement can turn your life upside down in more ways than one.

And if you are unaware of your rights in law, it can turn an emotionally devastating time into a demanding and stressful legal exercise.


Here’s what you need to know.

If a person dies without leaving a legally valid Will in place then their estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy in the country / state where they resided.

In England and Wales these rules state that only a husband, wife or civil partner can inherit all the deceased assets up to the value of £450,000, plus all their personal possessions whatever value, when there are NO children and only the first £250,000 when there are children.

If you are NOT married or in a civil partnership, but living together then BEWARE because the rules are very different!


If there is NO living husband, wife or civil partner but LIVING children, grandchildren or other direct descendants (e.g. great-grandchildren).

In this instance the estate is equally shared between the children first. If the children are deceased then their children (grandchildren) will inherit the estate between them.


If there is NO living husband, wife or civil partner and no living descendants, but living parents

Then the estate is shared equally between the parents


If there is NO living husband, wife or civil partner, no living descendants, or parents but living siblings 

Then the deceased brothers and sisters inherit equal shares of the estate. If a brother or sister has already died, their children (nieces and nephews of the deceased) inherit in their place.


If there are NO living relatives at all, including half-relatives.

Then the whole estate goes to the Crown.


Unmarried couples or couples NOT in a legally valid civil partnership get nothing, even if they have lived together for years.

If the couple jointly own a property together then the deceased share of the property may go to the other owner, however this depends on the type of ownership agreement in place. Read our article “How you own your home with your partner or spouse can have major implications for you when they die” to find out more.

Today’s modern families are a myriad of relationships not as simple as husband and wife, however although times have changed unfortunately the law hasn’t caught up.

It’s important that you know exactly HOW you will be affected should the unthinkable happen, and your partner dies.  As Will providers and Estate Planners we regularly hear from distraught families who have been drastically affected from the lack of a Will.

Here are just 3 case studies you may be able to relate to: Common Law Spouses – do you have any rights?


For more information get in touch with us at Just Wills and Legal Services on 01342 477102 to book a free consultation.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.



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