The Myth of ‘Common Law’ Marriage

Many couples in the UK choose to co-habit but not marry or have a civil partnership. Some do so under the belief that they will be protected by the fact that they have a “common law marriage” and will be treated much the same as a married couple in relation to tax, inheritance and many other issues.

Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Common Law Marriage does not formally exist and co-habiting partners have no automatic rights over their partner’s possessions after death.

If you are co-habiting and do not have valid Wills in place that include each other, then there is every chance that your partner will get nothing when you die.

The Intestacy Rules govern how someone’s estate is divided if they die without a Will and there is an order of precedence to be followed. Cohabiting partners are not currently included in the list of people who may inherit under these Rules and so it is vital that, if you want any of your property to go to them, that you make a valid Will setting this out clearly.

Parliament has recently released a research briefing on this issue and you can find it here. This briefing sets out Parliament’s findings on the increase of co-habitation and its position with regard to co-habiting couples and their legal rights.

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