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27 Living Together and Your Rights if You Separate

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1 Introduction

2. Why is living together different from being married?

3. Setting up home

4. Making a ´living-together agreement´

5. When you are living together

6. If you or your partner dies

Unmarried partners do not inherit from each other automatically the way married couples do. Instead, if you die without making a will (‘intestate’), your property will go to any children you have. If you don’t have children, it will go to your parents or other members of your blood-related family.

This means that if you are living together and you want your partner to benefit when you die, it is vital to make a will. You should do this even if you feel that at present you don’t own anything of great value. It is essential that you and your partner make wills if you own your home as tenants in common (see ‘Buying somewhere together’). For more about wills, see:

  • the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet 'Wills and Probate'; or
  • the Advice Services Alliance booklet, 'Wills and Living Together'.

See 'Further help' for details on how to get hold of these.

Many unmarried couples do not bother to make wills, but this can cause serious and distressing problems after one partner dies.

There are two main things you need to think about when you are making a will:

  • what your partner will need in the future, especially where they will live; and
  • what your children will need in the future and who will look after them. You may need to appoint a guardian for them. You should think about who you want the children to live with, and who you think should look after their money until they grow up. These may be different people. You should discuss this with the people you want to appoint to make sure that they would be willing to take on the role.

What happens if I am left with nothing?
If your partner dies without a will, and you are not provided for, you may be able to make a claim to the court for part of the ‘estate’ (their estate is all their assets and property, including houses, investments, money and belongings). You must make this claim within six months of probate being granted on your partner’s estate. See the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet ‘Wills and Probate’ for more about this. You have to show the court that your partner was supporting you. You can claim:

  • as a 'cohabitant' if you lived as a couple (same-sex or male-female) for a continuous period of two years before your partner died; or
  • as a 'dependant' if you lived together less than two years.

Cohabitants may get more than dependants. You can also bring claims for children if your partner was supporting them.

Claims for damages if your partner dies in an accident
If your partner dies in an accident and there is a claim for damages, you won’t necessarily benefit from this. Bereavement damages (currently £11,800) can be paid only to the husband or wife or registered civil partner of someone who dies in an accident. If you had been living with your partner for a continuous period of two years before they died, you can make a claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 for loss of financial support. This applies to both male-female and same-sex couples.

Other damages are normally paid as compensation when someone dies in an accident. ‘General damages’, which means compensation for the dead person’s pain, suffering and ‘loss of amenity’, are paid into the person’s estate. So too are damages for any loss of earnings or benefit that the dead person had. These damages will go to you only if your partner left a will that named you. Otherwise they will go to his or her blood-relations like the rest of his or her property. This is another reason for making a will.

As an unmarried partner you may be able to bring a claim if you experience losses of your own as a result of the accident – for instance, if you have to give up work to nurse your partner.

The tenancy on a rented house or flat
With some sorts of tenancies, you have the right to inherit the tenancy if your partner was the tenant and he or she dies. For more about this, see the Gurkha Free Legal Advice leaflet ‘Renting and Letting’. Same-sex couples should be treated as having the same rights in this situation as male-female couples

7. State benefits for people living together

8. Tax matters

9. Pensions

10. If you split up

11. Arrangements if you have children

12. Sorting out the home

13. Sorting out other items you own

14. Dealing with emergencies

15. Terms used in matters to do with living together

16. Further help

17. About this leaflet

The leaflets in this series give you an outline of your legal rights. They are not a complete guide to the law and are not intended to be a guide to how the law will apply to you or to any specific situation. The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since this was printed, so information in it may be incorrect or out of date.

If you have a problem, you will need to get more information or personal advice to work out the best way to solve it. See 'Further help' for sources of information and advice.

This leaflet is published by the Gurkha Free Legal Advice (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor and mediator specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: January 2009

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