What Happens If My Partner Dies Without a Will?

The intestacy laws do not provide for partners who are not married or in a civil partnership. This means that if your partner dies without a Will, you will not inherit anything.

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By Nicola Briggs - 29th April 2021

If your partner dies without having made a Will – and you are not married or in a civil partnership – then you will receive nothing under the rules of intestacy. However, any assets held as joint tenants (such as property) will pass to you as the surviving owner.

Intestacy laws explained

The intestacy laws dictate who should inherit what, when someone dies without a Will. The intestacy laws do not provide for partners who are not married or in a civil partnership. This means that if your partner dies without a Will, you will not inherit anything.

This could be particularly problematic if you live in your partner’s home. After their death, you would have no right to continue to live there. If the beneficiaries wish to see it sold, then you could be forced to move out. You may find yourself in the unenviable position of having to negotiate with your deceased partner’s children, who may see you as a threat because you are not their parent. There may even be some hostility, if you have come into their lives following an earlier separation or divorce.

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Assets held as joint tenants

The rules are different for assets and property that are held as joint tenants, such as a joint bank account or a property. When one owner dies, the asset passes automatically to the surviving joint owner, regardless of whether they are a spouse, partner or civil partner. You simply need to produce your partner’s death certificate in order to obtain full ownership of that asset.

Inheritance tax

However, jointly owned assets do not escape the inheritance tax net. Inheritance tax is payable on an estate for a single person with no children, where the value of the estate exceeds £325,000. Assets that have passed by survivorship are still part of the tax calculation and, as an unmarried partner, you do not qualify for the exemption that applies to gifts to spouses and civil partners.

Marriage is an important tax planning tool. Of course, tax should not be your only reason for getting married! However, saying “I do” can lead to incredible tax savings.

It is important to consider the unavailability of the spouse/civil partnership exemption when writing your Will, so as to fully understand the implications. If a person writing a Will leaves their house to their children, they will gain (on current allowances) an additional £175,000 of nil rate band (called the residence nil rate band) on top of the £325,000 they already have, thereby totalling £500,000 before inheritance tax becomes payable. If they instead leave the house to their unmarried partner, they immediately lose this additional residence nil rate band, resulting in an extra tax bill of £70,000 (£175,000 x 40%). The next problem will be to find the money to pay for this tax.

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Claiming reasonable financial provision

Even if your partner dies without a Will, then all may not be lost. If you lived with the deceased in a marriage-like relationship for two years, you can bring a claim for reasonable financial provision. If successful, the award will be sufficient to cover your maintenance. This is a far weaker position than that of an actual spouse or civil partner, whose claim can extend beyond that which is required for their maintenance.

Protect your partner – make a Will

Those who are not married or in a civil partnership need a Will more than anybody. To ensure that you are provided for if your partner dies - and vice versa – we recommend that you both make a Will as soon as possible. This will guarantee that your partner is taken care of, should they have to face the world on their own. It should also minimise claims against your estate, as you will have clarified your wishes, making it obvious how you want your assets to be distributed.

To make a Will, call us today or email us at info@aticuslaw.co.uk to book a consultation with one of our experts.

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