The Government's legal advisers have recommended that the law be changed to allow unmarried partners rights over property belonging to one another. The change would see the rights of unmarried couples move closer to the situation that is currently only afforded to those who are married or in a civil partnership.
The Law Commission's recommendations look to end 86 years of rules which deny cohabiting couples the same rights of inheritance if one partner dies without making a will.
Under the present law an unmarried partner has no automatic right to their loved one's property if they should die intestate, that is without a legally valid will. Every year some 350,000 people die in such a situation.
The new Law Commission recommendations would allow couples living together for five years or more an automatic inheritance right akin to that enjoyed by married or civil partnership couples. The right would be acquired after just two years if the unmarried couple had children living at home with them.
The Law Commission said the proposed change in the law "reflected the growing prevalence and acceptance of cohabitation". Opponents say that changes will undermine the importance of marriage as the backbone of traditional families.
This is the latest recommendation from the Law Commission concerning rights for cohabiting couples. In September the Government rejected a proposal to extend property rights to cohabiting couples who separate. At present, only married couples or those in civil partnership have property rights if the relationship comes to an end. That particular rule looks set to remain, but this latest recommendation could see the rules change for cohabiting couples if one partner should die without a will.
Professor Elizabeth Cooke, who leads the latest project, said: "These recommendations follow extensive research on how the law of inheritance should operate in the 21st century. They would benefit many thousands of people."
The best way to ensure that property passes in the way you wish is to have a wills and probate solicitor draft a legally valid will. If you already have a will, you should revisit it with your solicitor periodically to ensure it remains up to date.
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