It is widely recognised that increasing numbers of couples are deciding against marriage or civil partnership, but it is important that these couples think carefully about their future and plan accordingly.
Whilst it is easy for estate planning to be pushed down the to-do list, it is especially important that cohabiting couples formally document their wishes to ensure that their partner is provided for in the event one of them suddenly passes away.
Prepare a Will
The easiest way to ensure that your partner is provided for is to prepare a Will. Whether you have been with your partner for 2 years or 20 years, the only way to provide for your partner is to prepare a Will. This means that they would receive all or some of your estate if you were to die suddenly.
What happens if there is no Will?
If a person dies without preparing a Will, the intestacy rules will apply to their estate. These are fixed rules which list in order those who are most entitled to receive the estate. Unfortunately, this list only recognises married couples and those in a civil partnership. It does not include couples who are cohabiting or in a long-term relationship. As a result, a surviving partner could be left with housing or money worries at an already very difficult time.
The only way to remedy this would be for the surviving partner to make an application to Court. This would bring additional stress and the claim could be challenged by family members who would otherwise have benefitted from the intestacy rules.
It is therefore important that unmarried couples have a full discussion about what they want to happen to their property and other assets in the event that one of them passes away, and instruct a lawyer to discuss how these wishes can be incorporated into a Will.
What should a Will include?
There are various factors and issues to discuss when preparing a Will. It is therefore important that specialist legal advice is sought to ensure that all of these are covered. If you have children (either from previous relationships or together) it is especially important to ensure that they are considered and your estate passes in accordance with your wishes. The topics which are discussed during an instruction meeting include the following
• Who do you want to inherit your estate?
• Who do you want to act as your Executor(s)?
• What happens to your property? If you own a property your sole name, it is possible to draft a Will which states that the partner can continue to live in the property for as long as they wish;
• Do you want to make any specific gifts of money? This could be a gift to your partner, to ensure that they have funds to live on and do not struggle.
• Do you want your personal belongings to go to a specific person or group of people? This could include your car or sentimental family items.
It is especially important that co-habiting couples consider estate planning and the easiest way to ensure that their wishes are put into effect is to seek legal advice to get a properly drafted Will in place.