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Can a Cohabitee Bring a Claim When Their Partner Dies?

by Ridley&Hall in Inheritance & will disputes, Rebecca Kershaw posted December 21, 2023.
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The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 has long been a crucial legal instrument in ensuring fair provision for family members and those who are dependent on someone who has died. While the Act primarily addresses spouses, children, and other dependants, it also extends its reach to cohabitees – individuals who have lived together but are not married or in a civil partnership. In this blog, I will explore the rights of cohabitees under the 1975 Inheritance Act, shedding light on the complexities and challenges they may face.

What is a Cohabitee?

Cohabitees, also known as unmarried partners or common-law spouses, are individuals who live together in a domestic relationship without being legally married or in a civil partnership. While many cohabiting couples assume they have automatic rights to each other’s assets, the legal reality is quite different. The number of couples choosing to live together in a stable, intimate relationship without getting married has increased by 144% between 1996 and 2001, according to the following article from the Commons Library.

The 1975 Inheritance Act and Cohabitees:

The 1975 Inheritance Act allows certain categories of people, including cohabitees, to make a claim against an estate for “reasonable financial provision” if they believe they have not been adequately provided for. A claim must be brought within 6 months of the date of the Grant of Probate.

Cohabitees face additional hurdles compared to spouses or civil partners.

Proof of Cohabitation:

Cohabitees must establish that they were living together as a couple at the time of the deceased’s death. This can involve providing evidence of shared living arrangements, joint financial responsibilities, and the emotional aspects of their relationship. In the case of Lindop v Angus, the fact that the woman had continued to maintain a separate address for postal communication and voting did not prevent a finding by the court that the parties were cohabiting together.

Duration of Cohabitation:

The length of the cohabitation is a critical factor. A couple has to have been cohabiting for a period of 2 years or more. The longer the couple has lived together, the stronger the claim will be.

Financial Dependency and Contributions:

Cohabitees must demonstrate a certain level of financial dependency on the deceased and prove that they made contributions, whether financial or non-financial, to the relationship. Contributions can include caring for children, managing the household, or supporting the deceased partner in their career.

Reasonable Financial Provision:

The court will assess what constitutes “reasonable financial provision” based on the specific circumstances of the case. This involves considering, among other matters, the financial needs and resources of the cohabitee, any beneficiaries named by the deceased in their will, or if there is no will, those who would otherwise inherit under the intestacy rules, and any obligations or responsibilities the deceased may have had to others. The level of provision is less generous than for a spouse or civil partner.

Challenges and Considerations:

Cohabitees often face challenges when making a claim under the 1975 Inheritance Act. The lack of legal recognition for cohabiting relationships and the need for extensive evidence to support their case can make the process daunting.

  1. Legal Recognition of Cohabitation:

Unlike marriage or civil partnerships, cohabitation is not legally recognised in the same way. Cohabitees must prove the nature and extent of their relationship, which can be complicated, especially in cases where there is no clear documentation.

  1. Complex Family Structures:

Cohabiting relationships can be complex, especially when there are children from previous relationships involved. Determining who should get what can be challenging for the court.

  1. Property Ownership and Joint Assets:

Property ownership and joint assets add another layer of complexity. If a cohabiting couple owned property jointly, the surviving partner may automatically inherit their deceased partner’s share – it depends on whether the property is held as ‘joint tenants’ or ‘tenants in common.’ However, if the property is in the deceased’s sole name, then the cohabitee has no automatic right to a share post-death.

The Bottom Line

The 1975 Inheritance Act has provided a legal avenue for cohabitees to make claims for reasonable financial provision, recognising the changing dynamics of modern relationships. However, the complexities involved in proving the nature of the relationship and demonstrating financial dependency highlight the need for careful legal planning. Cohabitees should consider creating wills, cohabitation agreements, or other legal documents to protect their interests and ensure their wishes are carried out in the event of their death. As societal attitudes continue to evolve, it is essential for legal frameworks to adapt to provide clearer and more accessible avenues for cohabitees seeking inheritance rights. And it’s also important to keep under review the current position on the standard of provision; is it right that cohabitees should be treated less favourably than spouses or civil partners?

In the meantime, cohabitees do have the right to bring a claim if their partner dies. But it’s vital to take specialist legal advice promptly.

How Ridley & Hall’s Inheritance Disputes Solicitors Can Help:

Get in touch with one of our solicitors specialising in inheritance disputes for legal assistance or advice. Find out if you can pursue a claim under the Inheritance Act by discussing your situation with our experienced team.

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Rebecca Kershaw – Apprentice Solicitor



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