There are more than 3.3 million unmarried couples living together in the UK – and that number is growing. But while these ‘common law’ partnerships are now pretty common, the law has yet to catch up. Especially when it comes to inheritance. The rights of unmarried couples, if one dies, are somewhat thin on the ground.


What are a common law partner’s rights after a death in the UK?

If you die without a will, it’s the law that will decide what will happen to your assets, or ‘estate’. Specifically, a set of laws called the rules of intestacy.

To put it really simply, the rules of intestacy say that your closest relative (or ‘next-of-kin’) should inherit your estate. In England and Wales, the order of priority goes:

  • Spouses, and those in an official civil partnership
  • Kids
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • And so on…

You’ll notice that unmarried, ‘common law’ partners don’t appear on this list. That’s because at the moment, these partnerships aren’t really legally recognised yet in the rules of intestacy.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together, or whether you have kids. If you’re not married or in a civil partnership, you can’t automatically inherit your partner’s estate without a will. You’ll also be barred from accessing your partner’s bank accounts, whereas a spouse is given more leeway.

For unmarried couples, inheritance rights have to be fought for.


So who is the next-of-kin if you’re not married?

It depends. If you have children, they will be considered your closest relatives. The estate will be split between them.

If you’re not married to your partner and you don’t have kids, your parents will inherit your estate.

If your parents are no longer living, your siblings will inherit. You can find the full order of inheritance in our guide here.


What can I do if my partner dies without making a will and we’re not married?

There is some good news when it comes to unmarried partners’ rights after a death.

Home ownership

  • If you owned your home as joint tenants, you won’t have to move out: ownership simply transfers over to you as the other owner. The same goes for any joint bank accounts. However…
  • If you owned your home as tenants-in-common, you only retain the portion of the house that was designated  your share. The part that belonged to your partner goes to their new heirs. The new owners can’t force you out, but they can put you under pressure to sell.

Not sure whether you’re joint tenants or tenants-in-common? You can check how you own your property here. 

Pensions and life insurance

Even if you weren’t married, your partner may have named you as a beneficiary in their life insurance policy or pension. And if their work benefits included Death in Service, you might also be able to receive a payout from their employer. This isn’t guaranteed, but it’s worth checking.

Claiming on the estate

You may also be able to go to court to claim some of your partner’s estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975. It will only work if you have been living with your partner for more than two years, and you can prove that you were completely or partly dependent on their income.

You’ll need the help of a good solicitor for this, and it can be expensive.


Don’t put it off – make a will today

As you can see, if you’re not married to your partner, it’s incredibly important to make a will to protect them. Luckily, making a will is easy. In just 15 minutes, you can make a legally binding will online with Beyond.

All you need to do is answer a few simple questions, and our service will transform your answers into a complete valid will. Then you simply print and sign. And at £90 for a single will or £135 for two partner wills, it’s much cheaper than a standard solicitor.

Start making your will here today.

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