Here for you: Please note that Brookman’s services remain uninterrupted during this time. Read more

Cohabitation: What Happens When One Partner Dies?

Date: September 30th, 2019 - Written by: Brookman Solicitors


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.


Google Reviews

Brookman Solicitors

70 Reviews

Yesima Hamid 04/09/2020

I want to highly commend Brookman Solicitors firm. I had the privilege of getting very thorough and sensible advice from their solicitor Jennifer Douglas. I don't have enough praise for her. She made me feel at ease and 'got me' and understood very well all the issues and her advice was on point. I felt she had my interest at heart in all the different matters. She was very accommodating and willing. She truly made a difference. She has great insight and I truly recommend her and the firm. They are very professional with the human touch.

Roohie Mahajan 16/08/2020

I am so happy that I hired their services. I am from India and it was my international divorce case. My ex husband is in the UK. I had a free telephone conversation with Henry Brookman and I was so satisfied that without even meeting him I was so confident. My case was handled in the best way possible.

He is probably the one of the best lawyers in the world. He is extremely competent, professional, intelligent and empathetic. The only lawyer who genuinely work to help you rather than making money. He is a very experienced lawyer and he saved me so much money. He is so calm and kind towards his approach. He is the most genuine person I have come across.

I just came to London once to attend my hearing. My husband and his solicitors made it so complicated. My ex husband has to spend double the amount of legal fees than me. This is the difference between hiring a good experienced lawyer. Their fees might be expensive but good lawyer will make you save money at the end. Finally at the end I won the case and my husband has to pay all my legal fees without me travelling to the UK. I will always be eternally grateful to Henry Brookman and Brookman Solicitors. I am falling short of words to praise them.

I highly recommend their services. Keep up the good work.

Jen Ade 23/07/2020

I had an initial consultation and Henry was well prepared. He gave great advice and followed through quite quickly. He was very helpful.

Chris Mullins 15/07/2020

Henry and team were most professional, considerate and efficient when handling the financial proceedings owing to my overseas divorce. I recommend their services highly. International circumstance was at first to me most daunting and confusing, given each country had its' own unique approach. Thankfully Henry was knowledgeable of the law on either side of the seas and able therefore to provide best guidance and reasoning to me which enabled favourable settlement!

Wim Jansen 24/06/2020

I contacted Brookman to ask for information regarding the validity of an international divorce court ruling. They were very quick in providing me with the right information. When I had another question a few months later around children matters I phoned them again and after taking some background information and contact details they booked me in for a free telephone consultation with 1 of their partners Talitha Brookman. She spent half an hour of her time explaining to me what I could expect and provided legal advice. All was free of charge. I would not hesitate to contact them again should any matter become more formal and have to go through court. The service has been quick, professional and very friendly.