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/ 08 Mar 2024

Why do unmarried couples need a Will?

With more and more couples choosing to live together but not get married it is more important than ever that you ensure that you have an up to date Will that reflects your wishes and provides for your loved ones.

Samantha Fennah


Private Client

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The common law marriage myth

As of 2020 there were 3.5million co-habiting couples in the in England & Wales and nearly half of all children are born to people who are not married. Many still believe in the concept of “Common Law Marriage”, which is the belief  that the law automatically protects unmarried couples that live together  if something happens to their co-habiting partner. The reality is, unless you have a valid and up to date Will, you run the very real risk that your co-habiting partner will receive nothing when you die.

What happens if unmarried couples don’t have a Will?

If you die without a valid Will and you are not married, the “Intestacy Rules” will kick in and your assets will pass to your closest blood relatives. In this instance, your partner will receive nothing. You can find out more about the Intestacy Rules and what happens when you don’t have a valid Will by clicking the link.

There was an update to the intestacy rules in 2023 increasing the statutory legacy, this is the sum the surviving spouse will inherit if the deceased dies without a valid Will. You can find out more about this by clicking the link.

If you are unmarried but have children, they will receive everything and if they are under the age of 18 this will be automatically held on Trust which can often be an onerous and inefficient way to handle their inheritance. You may wish for your children to inherit later than 18 and you may wish to specify exactly who will be in charge of managing their inheritance, this can only be done via a properly drafted Will.

If you are unmarried but have no children your assets will pass first to your parents and if they have pre-deceased you, to your siblings and then half-siblings, then aunts/uncles and then cousins and so on down the family blood line until it finds someone living to inherit. This could mean that your assets could pass to a remote cousin you have never even met – this happens more often than you would think.

What should be included in Wills for unmarried couples?

It is important to note that marriage will overturn and invalidate a Will. Therefore, for unmarried couples, it is imperative that a clause be included of any intention of Marriage.

Wills for unmarried couples should consider:

  • Each other – how do you want to benefit each other under your Wills?
  • Other beneficiaries – do you have children together? Or from a previously relationship? Have you adequately provided for anyone who might expect to benefit from your Will?
  • Instructions about property – If only one of you owns the property you live in, is the surviving partner going to inherit it and if not, should they be allowed to live in it for the rest of their life?
  • Guardian to care for children – If you have children, specify who will be the guardian in the event that both parents pass away. This is crucial for the well-being of any dependents.
  • Funeral wishes – Outline your preferences for funeral arrangements, burial, or cremation. This can help prevent disputes among family members.

Why you should update your Will regularly

It is incredibly important that you not only have a valid Will but one that covers your current circumstances. If you made a Will 10 years ago that does not contemplate your co-habiting partner or children, then they may receive nothing when you die. Similarly, marriage will revoke a previous Will in its entirety and divorce will revoke any gifts to your ex-spouse in a previous Will. It is, therefore, crucial that you review your Will regularly and particularly at key life events such as moving in with a partner, marriage, divorce and the birth of a child.

It is also of vital importance that your Will is drafted in the context of the most up to date Inheritance Tax law. The laws surrounding the allowances and reliefs available when someone dies have changed a lot in the last 10-15 years and Wills that are not regularly reviewed could well end up costing their beneficiaries an unnecessarily large Inheritance Tax bill. The government is forever contemplating additional changes to Inheritance Tax, so once you have an up to date Will it is important it is reviewed at least every 5 years to ensure that it is as tax efficient as possible.

How can our Wills & Probate lawyers help you?

Luckily our Private Client team at Hanne & Co are on hand to guide you through the process whether you want to amend your Will, review your circumstances or even prepare a Will for the very first time. Contact our Wills & Probate lawyers on 0207 228 0017 or via the form below.


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If you have a query for our Wills team, contact one of our lawyers by filling out the form below or call us on +44 (0) 207 228 0017.

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