It is now believed that around 3.6 million unmarried couples are living together in the UK, and that this now represents around one in five couples in total. There is a misunderstanding or misconception amongst unmarried couples about what would happen on the death of either of them.
The general rule is that where someone dies without leaving a Will and that person is not married to their partner, then their partner is not entitled to any part of the estate of the deceased as of right. If the couple had children, the children are likely to inherit the estate in priority to the surviving partner.
In as far as a Will leaves any interest in the estate to the surviving partner, then any such gift will not be exempt from inheritance tax as would be the case in respect of a gift to a spouse.
What if there’s a will left?
This differs from the position where the first of two spouses die. If the spouse has left a Will leaving everything to the survivor, then there will be no inheritance tax to pay because there is an exemption on gifts between spouses no matter what their value.
What if there was no will left?
If the dying spouse had left no Will, then the surviving spouse is entitled to at least the first £270,000 of the value of the deceased spouse’s estate.
Therefore, the widow is in a far better position than a surviving cohabitee.
The Government have been urged to address this apparent discrepancy or discrimination against unmarried or cohabiting couples but has now announced that it has no plans to reform the law either relating to the succession to the estate of unmarried couples or the way in which they are taxed.
It is therefore extremely important that unmarried couples ensure that they have Wills in place that adequately provide for their partner should either of their deaths occur. Where the estate is of significant value, they should also give some thought to the effects that inheritance tax might have on the survivor.
Whilst it is important that everyone should make and maintain an up to date Will, the recent announcement by the Government emphasises the need for cohabitees to ensure that their Wills are up to date and drafted in the most tax efficient manner.
If you require help or assistance with reviewing or preparing a Will, please feel free to get in touch