Many people now do not get married but live very happily together in settled relationships for years. In some cases they share children, in other cases they come to a relationship with children from a previous marriage.
The myth of common law marriage still abounds – many people believing that in the event of their death a long-term partner enjoys all manner of rights that in reality simply do not exist. This can cause real issues for the survivor if one half of the partnership dies without making a Will or leaving a Will that fails to make reasonable provision for their “other half”.
Our Team were instructed by the co-habitee of a man who died leaving a very old Will that pre-dated their relationship. Whereas a marriage will invalidate a Will (though divorce, oddly, does not), forming a new long-term relationship has no impact on a Will.
The assets in the Estate were substantial and included the property in which the couple had lived for over 20 years but which was owned in the sole name of the deceased. His partner, our client, was left at risk of not having a roof over her head and was not entitled to any of the assets of the Estate as these all passed – according to the Will – to his children from a previous marriage.
Our client was understandably distraught. In her late 60s she was not in a position to get a job and was very scared that she would be homeless. She had no significant savings to fall back on as her partner had earned a substantial salary and later claimed a very comfortable pension whilst she had worked in part-time roles and been a homemaker during their relationship.
Our client had been totally financially dependant upon her partner during their relationship and neither of them had understood that being “common law husband and wife” meant nothing and the earlier Will would prevail.
These claims are always emotionally difficult. Our client was grieving the loss of her partner and his children – who were to inherit under the terms of the Will – were grieving the loss of their father.
Fortunately our Team were able to reassure our client that she would be able to bring a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. The Act allows for claims to be made not only by a spouse but by ” …a person who during the whole of the period of two years ending immediately before the date when the deceased died… was living (a) in the same household as the deceased, and (b) as if that person and the deceased were a married couple or civil partners.” (Section 1(1)(A) Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975).
We drafted a detailed letter of claim and engaged in discussions with solicitors acting for the children (who were all adults). The claim was not immediately accepted by the children – although they appreciated that our client was entitled to something they wanted to preserve as much of the Estate as possible for themselves.
Fortunately, our Team are very experienced in dealing with these claims and we were able to negotiate a lump sum payment for our client to provide her with a fund to use towards her future needs and agree terms of a life interest in the property she had lived in with her partner. This was key as it provided her with the comfort of knowing that the roof over her head was secure.
A life interest meant that our client would be able to stay in the house for her lifetime but we were also able to negotiate the ability for her to move that life interest to a smaller property, nearer to her own daughter in the future if she wished – the house would just be sold and the proceeds of sale used to buy a smaller place where our client could still live for as long as she wished. The property was valued at £850,000 so this gave our client plenty of leaway if she needed to down-size and move. The value of the property was kept in the Estate to benefit her partner’s children, albeit they would not be able to release funds until after our client’s death.
The provision of a lump sum of over £300,000 also allowed our client the comfort of knowing that her financial future was secure. The remaining value in the Estate passed according to the Will meaning that her partner’s children did still receive some provision straight away.
There is far more to settling claims like this than just working out how much money you can get for a client. These claims are about peace of mind and security. There are a myriad of arrangements that can be put in place to settle such claims and not all of them involved a division of assets and a clean break.
Our experienced team at Howes Percival can assist on all aspects of Contentious Trust and Probate disputes. For more information click here.