Back in 2016 we wrote on these Advice Centre pages about how the number of cohabitees nationally continued to rise – despite the precarious legal position of those who choose to live together without getting married.

Three years on and parliament is considering a bill to give cohabitees certain rights and make provision about the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant. But despite being introduced to parliament in 2017 the legislation has only reached the House of Lords committee stage. And with strong opposition to the bill from those who believe it undermines the institution of marriage further progress is not guaranteed.

As a result the reality is that as far as cohabitees are concerned little has changed in the past three years. Property rights, parental rights and taxation are just some of the areas where cohabitees will encounter difficulty if the relationship breaks down. Here we discuss the position of cohabitees when one partner dies.

What Happens When An Unmarried Partner Dies?

The legal risk posed by cohabitation when circumstances change was highlighted recently by the story of Gill Lavery. When her partner Paolo died unexpectedly she found herself facing a nightmare of bureaucratic wrangles caused largely by the fact that she and Paolo weren’t married. Gill admitted she had always believed she was “as good as married” to Paolo. Instead, when he died she discovered she had no rights at all. The difficulties she encountered included:

  • No automatic right to inherit her partner’s property
  • Difficulty dealing with banks and financial institutions as not legally recognised
  • No automatic entitlement to a share in pension or life insurance
  • Potential tax bill on anything inherited from her deceased partner

At the same time official figures published last month showed that cohabiting couples are the fastest-growing family type as people increasingly choose to live together before or without getting married. The percentage of cohabiting couple families has increased from 15.3% to 17.9%, or to 3.4 million families.

How Can Cohabitees Protect Themselves?

The story of Gill Lavery is tragic. But it’s clear that a significant amount of people are under the same misconception that has led to the difficulties she faced in the wake of her partner’s unexpected death.

Remember, Gill had lived long term with her partner, they were able to get a mortgage together and register their child’s birth as a couple. She believed the law offered her some protection. It didn’t. And until the bill going through parliament become s law it’s difficult to see how the rights of cohabitees will be extended. Gill Lavery now advises everyone to get married and that’s understandable given her experience. But marriage isn’t for everyone. If you are cohabiting there are steps you can take to protect your position in the event of one of your deaths. These include:

  • Making wills so that you will each inherit from each other. That’s not guaranteed under the law
  • Ensure that you hold property such as your home in the most legally appropriate way. A solicitor can advise you on this but it’s essential to clarify who owns property and in what proportion
  • Consider a declaration of trust to reflect your shares in property and what should happen to each share in the event of one party’s death
  • When one partner makes a contribution to a property out of their own funds, for example by contributing to capital repairs or paying for an extension, update the trust document to ensure added contributions are reflected in the ownership of the property
  • Consider a cohabitation agreement to regulate finances and property while you live together. Although designed primarily to assist with issues that arise on separation, cohabitation agreements can demonstrate what contributions are made to property and by whom in the event of one party’s death

How We Can Help

At Brookman we can assist with all of these matters. Above all bear in mind that a surviving cohabitee has no inheritance rights under the intestacy laws. While you may be able to apply for financial provision to the courts, success isn’t guaranteed and you could face significant legal bills. If you would like to discuss your situation with us directly please call us on + 44 (0) 20 7430 8470 or contact us online.

Got a question? Ask us now…

Kindly complete the form below to send an enquiry. Your message will be sent to one of our solicitors. Discretion is guaranteed.

Your Information

  • Consider including information such as: the name of your spouse (if relevant), the country you live in, the background to your problem.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Over 2000 FREE
consultations and counting…

Our free consultation can help you more clearly understand the legal issues relating your case and what your options are to move forward.

Request your free consultation

Or send us an enquiry

Today I had my free initial consultation with partner Henry Brookman over the phone. He had a clear understanding of my situation based on the info I provided in advance and provided me with sound advice and guidance to move forward. Many thanks.

Aug 2022   H. J.

Really appreciated Brookman's advice and support. Most lawyers charge extortionate fees just for an initial conversation but not Henry. Thanks for all your advice and time.

Jul 2022   Chloé

I had a consultation with the partner Henry Brookman. I can absolutely recommend him, he seemed knowledgeable, up to date and patient. I have found him to be straightforward in the answers he gives and down to earth. 100% recommended.

Jun 2022   Michael P

I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending Henry Brookman. His advice came in promptly when solicited, and was excellent. He is a thoughtful and very professional lawyer. He understood perfectly well the issue I presented him with, and gave me excellent advice in a family law related matter.

May 2022   Philip Hands

From my first contact with the firm I was treated courteously and promptly. I was offered a pro bono meeting shortly after making contact. Mr Brookman is clearly a very experienced professional and in our meeting he gave me some well considered and objective advice about my rather complicated situation which spans more than one jurisdiction.

May 2022   Julian Peachey

I had an initial consultation with Henry Brookman regarding prenuptial agreements and found him to be very helpful and knowledgeable.

Mar 2022   Simon Brooks

I had a free telephone consultation yesterday with Gavin Yeung. He could not have been more helpful and reassuring as he calmly and patiently worked through my situation to provide me with clarity and piece of mind at a time it was really needed and emotions are running high.

Mar 2022   'K M'

I spoke with Aziz at Brookman Solicitors on the phone for an initial consultation and he is one of the friendliest lawyers I have met. He is clearly very experienced as he patiently explained me all the concepts and processes which are quite daunting for someone in my situation, and then focused on the actual questions I wanted to ask... I would highly recommend Aziz and Brookman Solicitors.

Feb 2022   'R'

I am grateful for Henry Brookman and his team for support they provided to me during very frustrating time of divorce. They respond promptly to any request. I felt more confident after I started the process with them. Henry listened carefully to me and took quick actions on my case. I highly recommend this team of real professionals even for non-UK citizens.

Feb 2022   Sezim Beksultanova

I had online consultation with the partner Henry Brookman today. I was very happy with the service. I found him to be very insightful, knowledgeable and provided sound advice, as well as being kind and patient. It was a very comfortable discussion and he sent an email detailing our discussion very quickly discussing in our meeting in depth. I am amazed by the service we got just from a free consultation. I would highly recommend these solicitors!

Jan 2022   Shirley Christopher

We spoke at length and at no point felt like he was rushing us and we felt very comfortable. After our discussion we were also quickly sent an email detailing everything we were discussing in our meeting in depth. I am amazed by the service we got just from a free consultation. I would highly recommend these solicitors!

Dec 2021   Tina

I was fortunate to spend an hour running through a few questions with Natasha Slabas. She was quick to grasp the points raised and proposed a sensible way forward. Would recommend

Dec 2021   Nick Powell

I cannot praise the professionalism and courtesy too highly. The advice given in a very complex divorce matter, was clear, concise, enlightening and inspiring.

Nov 2021   Mary Barn

I contacted Henry Brookman because of the complex international aspect of my divorce and I’m very glad I did... Henry took his time explaining all the pro’s and contra’s... I now have a much clearer view over the situation and feel more confident going forward. I’m very grateful for the excellent advice I’ve received and not feeling rushed during the meeting.

Nov 2021   'A B'

Talitha offers sound advice, asks the right questions and advises you with what you need to know not just what you want to hear. I have no hesitation in recommending her services.

Sep 2021   Anu Vidyarthi

Google Reviews
Ask A Question

Contact Us

If you have questions, contact us now, we can help you.

Enquire Now

Or call us on +44 (0)20 7430 8470