The summer months are often popular for weddings and no doubt many happy couples were pleasantly surprised by the unprecedented heatwave which hit the UK bringing sunshine to many a wedding day! However for lawyers the summer of 2018 will also be remembered for an unprecedented judicial decision which allowed an unmarried woman to claim a Widowed Parent’s allowance for her 4 children following the death of their father and her partner of 23 years.
The UK Supreme Court ruled on 30th August 2018 that the decision to refuse this allowance to Siobhan McLaughlin was incompatible with human rights law. This decision sent shockwaves through the UK governmental departments, with the DWP stating that they would consider the ruling carefully. Whilst the decision does not in itself bring about a change in the law, it will put heightened pressure for changes to be made which could bring more rights to affected families.
It raises a question in the meantime over the current rights of the 3.3 million or so unmarried couples in the UK and highlights many of the misconceptions around this area. Married couples share various tax advantages, including the ability to pass their estates to their surviving spouse (or a trust for their benefit) entirely free of inheritance tax, as we have seen in high profile cases such as Bruce Forsyth passing his £17 million fortune to his wife without paying any tax.
Something of fundamental importance is who will receive your estate if you have not put a valid Will in place. If there is no Will, married couples can rely on the intestacy rules which in many cases enable estates to pass entirely to the spouse, subject to limits on the value of the estate and certain rights for any surviving children. However unmarried couples have no legal rights to a partner’s estate regardless of the length of the relationship and there being children. In such cases the surviving partner would have to apply to court for reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975. This makes the necessity for a Will of paramount importance.
For example, where a partner of an unmarried couple dies without children or any surviving family (including parents, siblings, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles or cousins), the entire estate could pass to the Crown. This is a stark reminder for anyone reading this who is in a relationship but is unmarried to make sure a Will is in place and to take advice as to how best to protect your loved ones.
To conclude, whilst the government are coming under increasing pressure in light of cases such as Siobhan McLaughlin, there is currently no change in the legislation so unmarried couples must seek advice and make preparations for their Wills to be written before it is too late.
If you have any concerns on the issues raised in this blog please contact a member of the Inheritance Protection Team at Gardner Leader who would be happy to assist you.