Current cohabitation laws can be a trigger for Will disputes

The Family Law Association ‘Resolution’ has recently had its Cohabitation Awareness Week – a campaign designed to raise awareness of the relative lack of legal protection for unmarried couples.

While debate in this area often focuses on the risks involved if the cohabitees’ relationship comes to an end, a decision not to marry or the inability to form a Civil Partnership can also have a bearing in the event of one partner passing away.

In these circumstances, no rights under the intestacy rules arise and a surviving partner has to resort to the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975 in order to seek reasonable provision.

Indeed, it has been widely suggested that the increase in the number of estate disputes which have arisen in recent years is due in part to more complicated family arrangements and a failure of the parties to recognise the need to make express arrangements by Will.

Even so, there is a lacuna crying out to be filled where persons of the opposite sex have no ability to claim exemption from IHT on assets passing between them as the concept of a Civil Partnership between such persons has been rejected.

The potential for a dispute was highlighted by a case only last month, in which a 70-year-old lady made a claim for a lump sum following the death of her partner. The deceased’s Will, which had been made prior to the couple’s meeting, made no provision for her.

While the couple had lived together under the same roof for seven years prior to the man’s death, his daughters from a previous marriage are fighting the pensioner’s claim. They maintain that their father in actual fact had several relationships in later life and that his cohabitation was not therefore exclusive.

Will this defeat her claim or could it open the door to her and to other claims based on any assumption of responsibility for maintenance of the other ladies in the deceased’s life?

The case was heard at the Central London County Court last month and the decision is eagerly awaited

Carter Lemon Camerons LLP Solicitors is a City law firm which provides Wills and probate services with a personal touch to its clients – that go beyond the simple drafting of documents. Unlike many City practices we are happy to act in smaller private legal matters, bringing the same care and consideration as we do to large commercial matters. If you require advice on making, defending or contesting Wills, please contact Neil Acheson-Gray or Ian West.