The Law Commission has published its recommendations on reforming the law on intestacy and family provision claims on death, which include a proposal that certain cohabitants should be entitled to inheritance rights when there is no Will. 

little boy playing on the beachThe situation at the moment is that if you are living with someone to whom you are not married, if you die without making a Will or do not make a Will in their favour, then they will receive nothing as they are not a relative.

There are various Rules of Intestacy which were set up in the 1920s and basically mean that if somebody dies without a Will, intestate, then their estate passes according to strict rules to their spouse and then their children.  If they die unmarried with no children then their estate passes either to their parents or then to brothers and sisters and so on, passing through various relatives.  No mention of cohabitees, non-relatives.

There are other issues of the Rules of Intestacy that need to be updated – for instance with larger estates a spouse receives £250,000 absolutely and a life interest in the rest.  Not necessarily what the testator would have wanted.

The Law Commission’s recommendations include the following:-

  • To ensure that where a couple are married or in a civil partnership, assets pass on intestacy to the surviving spouse in all cases where there are no children or other descendants.
  • To simplify the sharing of assets on intestacy where the deceased was survived by spouse and children or other descendants.

Of particularly relevance to cohabitees the draft Inheritance (Cohabitants) Bill contains further provisions that would give certain unmarried partners who have lived together for five years the right to inherit on each other’s death under the Intestacy Rules.  Where the couple have a child together, this entitlement would accrue after two years’ cohabitation, provided the child was living with the couple when the deceased died.

The current Intestacy Rules clearly need updating both in terms of cohabitees and by only giving a spouse a life interest in certain situations.  The rules surrounding who can make a claim against a deceased’s estate also need a review and this report attempts to cover both aspects.  Reform is certainly needed – it is surprising how few people are aware of the Intestacy Provisions which both limit rights of a spouse and currently exclude cohabitees altogether.

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