Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

On the face of it, estate planning for unmarried couples should be straightforward. You would think it is exactly the same as a married couple, but that’s not the way the law works.

In the modern world we live in, it’s difficult to comprehend that the law treats couples that cohabit differently to married ones, but that is still the case.

If you do not have a Will specifying how you wish your estate to be shared, it will automatically go to your next of kin, which is not your partner – unless you are married.

Clearly having a Will is going to protect you and your partner – at least to some degree. If you choose to leave everything to a partner, and nothing to any other close family members, there is a risk it can be contested. But, to be fair, that is true of any Will.

So, the first rule for estate planning for unmarried couples?

Get a Will! And that’s for both members of the couple.

But actually, we are really putting the cart before the horse here.

So, let’s take a step back.

Before you even think about getting a Will, you need to reflect on what you would like to happen if you are no longer around.

Areas of particular concern:

  • Children – if you have children from a previous relationship you need to consider the best home for them if you are no longer there, and who is the best person to take over guardianship, assuming the other parent is not available.
  • Your property – we advise you and your partner to own your home as “tenants in common” – this means your share in the property would not automatically pass to your partner when you pass away. Your share can be directed to your preferred beneficiary via a Trust for protection.
  • Cherished items and heirlooms – if you have anything of specific value – monetary or sentimental – you need to decide what you would like to happen to those items. You would be surprised how often these seemingly minor things can become a huge issue.

While we reference a few areas above, we encourage you consider every element of your estate – your finances, any additional property, your pensions and investments, even any pets.

When making your decisions you should also bear in mind that if you are not married the remaining member of the partnership could be facing quite a substantial inheritance tax bill. You may wish to consider ways to mitigate that such as putting part of your estate in Trust, gifting items while you are still here, or even getting married!

As we have mentioned before, we are huge fans of having a family meeting to discuss this.

Whilst it will not entirely remove the risk of a Will being contested, it is much better if you are open and honest about your wishes for your estate. You just have to accept that if you have chosen to leave everything to your partner, it may not go down well with other close family relatives.

And, by the way, the considerations we have outlined are ones you should be thinking about regardless of whether you are cohabiting or married. And then be regularly reviewing. Family dynamics change, people’s situations change, life changes – so make sure your Will is kept up to date with your current wishes.

If you would like to discuss a Will for you and your partner in more detail, please contact us on 01344 875 310.

estate planning for unmarried couples