It’s one of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to ensure your loved ones receive everything they should be entitled to – and yet, fewer than half of adults in the UK ever get around to making a will. Under English and Welsh law, there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ marriage. That is, a couple cannot be considered married merely by virtue of their living together for a length of time.
The belief that such unofficial marriages do exist however is widely held – according to the Office for National Statistics, 58% of people say this is the case. And the number of people who believe that a long relationship is likely to impact who inherits a person’s assets when they are deceased, is likely higher still.
Not only is a cohabiting couple not considered married in any sense, but the partner is not entitled to any say in who gets a person’s money and possessions.
In the event that one partner dies, this is really a double tragedy. In addition to the loss of life, the surviving partner may be left with a sudden lack of income and potentially the loss of personal possessions of which they made use but which were actually in the name of the deceased – perhaps including property and transport.
Informal agreements have no legal status either. An unofficial pact with your cohabiting partner’s next of kin is a guarantee of nothing – a witnessed, official will really is the only way to ensure that your assets will be distributed as you wish.
Another issue to consider is that of inheritance tax. After the first £325,000, your assets to be inherited are taxed at 40% if you have not made a will. If you are married, the entire sum is tax-free, but you could also be entitled to a reduced rate of tax by making a will.
If you have assets up to that amount – and when you consider the value of all property, this is more likely than many people realise – being clear about your wishes upfront is crucial to ensuring your partner, family and other beneficiaries receive as much as possible.
Astonishingly, half of married people in the UK have not made a will. It would seem that this is at least in part due to not wanting to confront one’s death, or perhaps the impression that it will be very expensive or time-consuming. This is far from the case – it need not take very long at all and costs less than you may think in straightforward circumstances. To avoid any disputes after your passing, consider drafting a will as soon as possible.