A recent case involving a cohabiting couple has highlighted the need for a robust Will after a man died and the judge awarded his surviving partner more than he intended.
There has been a rise in disputes between family members over inheritance. And a recent case has shown that a cohabiting partner might have a greater claim to your estate than you realise.
What happened in this case?
While the ‘common law’ husband or wife doesn’t actually exist in law, living with someone could entitle them to a substantial proportion of their deceased partner’s estate. Even if this goes against the terms of their partner’s Will.
Mr Hodge and Ms Thompson lived together for over 40 years. However, just before he died, Mr Hodge created a Will leaving nothing to his partner. In a letter he explained that he did this because he believed Ms Thompson would need to move into residential care after his death, and that she had her own finances to cover this cost.
However, Ms Thompson was unhappy with this and contested the Will. Her claim was successful as the judge found that she did not need to move into residential care and could live independently, but did not have the financial means to do so. As such,
Ms Thompson was awarded a home worth £225,000, as well as a further £28,800 to pay for adaptions to the cottage, and an additional lump sum of £116,000 to help supplement her limited income.
This isn’t a one-off
In this case, the named beneficiaries will still inherit a sizeable amount as the estate was worth £1.5 million. Furthermore, the fact that Mr Hodge’s reasons for not taking care of his longstanding partner were unfounded contributed to the judge’s decision. But this is not the first time a Will has been overturned in favour of a cohabitee.
Indeed, it is possible for a ‘common law’ partner to bring a claim under the Inheritance Act after just two years of cohabitation if they rely on financial provision from the estate to carry on living the lifestyle they have become used to (however luxurious that lifestyle might be).
So, money and property can be given to someone other than the deceased’s intended beneficiaries.
The death of a loved one is a difficult time, and, where there are disputes about a Will, the stress and upset can make it even harder. As such, taking professional advice is crucial if you want to protect your Will against any potential challenge. With disagreements over money or property devastating for those left behind, and often very expensive to resolve, a properly prepared and considered Will should be a priority.