The dynamics of a family household has changed dramatically over the past decade and it is important that people are aware of the legal implications of their own arrangements.
Co-habiting couples are the fastest growing family type, overtaking married couples and civil partners. The National Statistics show that the number of us co-habiting has increased by 25.8% over the last decade. This may be explained by the trend to live together instead of marriage or live together prior to marriage.
A ‘Common Law’ marriage means nothing in England and Wales, contrary to many people’s mistaken belief. This means that co-habiting couples do not have the same legal rights as a married couple or civil partners.
If you are co-habiting with your partner, and you own your own property: you need to be satisfied that if anything happened to you or your partner, either by separation or death, that your share of the property is protected.
There are two ways to hold your property, Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common. Joint Tenants means that you are both seen as one legal entity and therefore neither of you have a defined share of the equity.
Tenants in Common sees you as two separate legal entities. It is very common for couples to contribute different amounts towards the purchase of a property. This maybe because of inheritance or a family gift. It is therefore important to protect your share in the event of separation or death.
A Declaration of Trust is a document that sets out an agreement between both parties detailing what is to happen in the event that the parties separate or die. The document determines each other’s interests and how the property will be split.
As mentioned, a common law marriage has no legal standing in the UK. It is a common myth that if a couple have been together (not married) for so many years, in the event of death, everything falls to the survivor automatically. This is not the case and it is so important to have a Will in place to choose your beneficiaries.
An example: Ruby and Paul were not married. They lived together with Ruby’s young daughter. Sadly, Ruby died having not made a Will. Ruby and Paul had always believed that because they had lived together for so long they would each benefit from the other’s estate. This is not the case.
The distribution of Ruby’s estate is now determined by the Intestacy Rules and as Paul was not married to Ruby at the time of her death, he will not inherit from her estate under these rules. Paul also has not been named as guardian for Ruby’s daughter although he has raised her with Ruby since her birth.
This is a startling reminder of the reason why, when setting out in early adulthood, you need to ensure that you and your family are always protected.