The myth of common law marriage

4 February 2019

A recent study has found almost half of people believe that unmarried couples living together are in a common law marriage with similar rights to married couples. The reality is very different.

In today’s modern society, cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family, with numbers more than doubling in the last ten years.

In England and Wales, cohabitants have no legal status and, therefore, no automatic rights in most circumstances – especially if the relationship comes to an end. For example, if one partner dies there’s no right for the other to inherit part of their estate – regardless of how long they have lived together and even if they had children together. Equally, there is no exemption on death for tax purposes and no legal duty to support the partner financially.

The first findings from this year’s British Social Attitudes Survey – carried out by The National Centre for Social Research – reveal that 46% of us are under the wrong impression that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage.

This misconception may explain the high number of people in the UK without a Will. Charity will-writing scheme, Will Aid, has found that 53% of people in the UK don’t have a will in place.

The importance of having a will in place

Even if you have discussed with your family how you would like your estate to be administered following your death, putting it down in writing ensures clarity and reassurance for your loved ones both whilst you are still living and after your death. Not only does a will allow you to say what you would like to go to whom, as well as any charities or other causes to which you would like to make donations, but it is also your chance to make it clear who you want to act as the executors of your estate after you’re gone. Making this clear can minimise confusion and ensure the people who you trust are those in control following your death.

Simply having a will is also not enough: you need to ensure it’s both a legal document and kept up to date. Writing your own will might seem like a good way to ensure matters unfold exactly as you wish after you die, but can actually trigger legal disputes that go on for months or even years following your death. A will that hasn’t been updated for some time can also cause similar problems if it doesn’t reflect the position of both you and your family at the time of your passing. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to hire a solicitor with the expertise in this field to ensure your will is both up to date and completely legal.

  • For further information please contact:

    Carolyn Matravers

    Chartered Financial Planner, Private Client, Yeovil

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