• Contact Us

What Inheritance Rights Do I Have if My Partner Dies?

on Tuesday, 21 July 2020.

A sharp rise in inheritance disputes is likely to be another unhappy legacy of coronavirus (COVID-19). For anyone so unfortunate as to lose their partner, it can be a shock to discover there is no such thing as common law marriage and inheritance rights.

Ben and Sarah

Take as an example - Sarah, who meets Ben, a wealthy businessman. Ben is divorced and has children from his first marriage. Ben invites Sarah to move in with him and Sarah gives up her job to spend more leisure time with him. The couple enjoy a high standard of living, including expensive holidays, sailing on Ben's yacht, dining out at Michelin-starred restaurants and pursuing their mutual love of purchasing fine art. They are happy together for over a decade until Ben dies unexpectedly.

Ben's Will leaves Sarah a fraction of his overall wealth and a limited right to live in their home which is subject to many conditions and she is not the legal owner. Ben's adult children inherit the bulk of his multi-million estate. Sarah has no income and cannot afford to pay the bills in their large house nor can she afford their old lifestyle - Ben used to cover all this.

PC coronavirus

What Can Sarah Claim?

Some cohabitees, like Sarah and Ben, who have lived together for at least 2 years are eligible to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975.

Although Sarah is eligible to issue a claim, to succeed, she must demonstrate to the court that Ben has failed to provide sufficiently for her in his Will. The court will take several factors into account when deciding how much Sarah should receive, including her own financial position and the size of Ben's estate.

There have been several cases, including Negus v Bahouse, decided in the Court of Appeal, that direct courts also to consider the level of lifestyle enjoyed by a couple and the cost for the survivor of continuing it, when assessing what claimants like Sarah should receive. So the holidays, art purchases, and other expensive activities enjoyed by Ben and Sarah will be relevant, amongst other factors, in deciding Sarah's claim.

Spouses and civil partners who claim are likely to receive a higher award, as the starting point for a court would be to award 50% of the estate to Sarah (akin to a divorce), unless the court finds good reason to depart from this referring to the relevant criteria. There are also valuable tax savings to be gained as spousal/ civil partner awards are exempt from inheritance tax.

Expert Legal Advice

The Act was made in 1975 and the law is out-of-step with how many couples live now. Strict time limits also apply in these claims. Expert advice and a robust approach is needed to achieve the best outcomes.

Our large team of contentious probate specialists have in-depth knowledge and experience of advising both spouses/civil partners and cohabitees in these claims and also in advising family members, as defendants.

For more information, please contact Fiona Lawrence in our Private Client team on 07909 901 370, or complete the form below.

Get in Touch

First name(*)
Please enter your first name.

Last name(*)
Invalid Input

Email address(*)
Please enter a valid email address

Please insert your telephone number.

How would you like us to contact you?

Invalid Input

How can we help you?(*)
Please limit text to alphanumeric and the following special characters: £.%,'"?!£$%^&*()_-=+:;@#`

See our privacy page to find out how we use and protect your data.

Invalid Input