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The Cohabiting Couples’ Legal Tool Kit: How can you provide for your Partner?

 

There is a widely believed legal myth that once a couple have lived together for two years they are “common-law man and wife” and it is the same as being married. This is not true. Unfortunately this myth is widely perpetuated which means that couples sometimes do not take easily achieved, sensible steps to protect themselves and each other.

What is a Cohabiting Couple?

Cohabiting couples live together but are not married or in a civil partnership. There is no legal recognition of this type of relationship despite the fact that more than 3.3 million couples in the UK are cohabiting.

Some couples choose to have their relationship legally recognised either by marrying or by forming a civil partnership. However, if you do not wish to go down those routes, you can still ensure that you and your partner are legally protected by agreeing matters and documenting your decisions.

  1. Make a Will

Your cohabitee will not automatically inherit from you. If you die, they may be able to make a claim against your Estate if they fulfil certain criteria. However this is expensive, time-consuming and stressful. A much cheaper and easier solution is simply to make a Will which provides for them.

Frequently clients are concerned about making a Will to benefit their partner because they also want to benefit other family members or children from a previous relationship. A good lawyer will be able to advise you on how to structure your Will to benefit both your partner and children fairly. Such wills often include flexible life interest trusts or rights of occupation.

  1. Make a Lasting Power of Attorney

Whilst it is an unpleasant thought; people have accidents everyday. If you are in hospital or abroad; you may not be able to deal with important matters yourself. Your cohabitee will not be able to help you with your financial affairs unless they have been legally registered as your Property & Financial Affairs Attorney. For example, they won’t be able to access your bank account or speak to your insurance company unless they can produce a registered LPA.

You might find that for reasons of confidentiality hospital and care home staff require sight of a Health & Welfare LPA before they can speak openly with your partner. This type of LPA can also include instructions similar to a “living Will” which states whether or not you wish to be resuscitated in particular circumstances.

You might not want to appoint your partner as your attorney or sole attorney. You may wish to have a combination of your partner and children (or other family members) appointed. A Private Client lawyer can advise you as to how best to structure your LPAs in practical terms to reflect your wishes.

  1. Make a Deed of Trust regarding your Property

When you own a property jointly with your partner you need to consider how you wish to hold the property.  There are two options to consider.  First, you have the option of holding the property as Joint Tenants. This means that if one of you were to pass away the other party would automatically inherit the other’s share in the property.

The second option you should consider is Tenants in Common. When you hold the property as Tenants in Common you can opt to hold the property in equal or unequal shares.  Once you have worked out the shares you both wish to secure the details of this can be transposed into a Deed of Trust.

When you hold a property as tenants in common you need to ensure that you have a valid Will in place to deal with your respective shares, as your partner will not automatically receive your share.  Clearly stating what you wish to happen with your interest in the property will prevent problems and confusion between Beneficiaries and potential claimants in the future.

A Deed of Trust explains what proportion of the property you own. Whilst it is often uncomfortable to think about such matters; it also deals with how you will move forward if one party wishes to leave the property and be bought out or otherwise sell the property.

  1. Make a Cohabitation Agreement

It is also possible to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement with your partner, which records your rights and responsibilities towards each other including details about the way in which you own your family home and your respective shares and the current financial arrangements for payment of utility bills, the mortgage, food and other household expenses.

A Cohabitation Agreement can also record the parties’ intentions, if one party invests further monies into the property, for instance to pay for a new kitchen or discharges part of the mortgage.

A Cohabitation Agreement can assist in avoiding expensive and protracted litigation, if parties record what will happen to the family home if they subsequently separate.

Whilst it is certainly not romantic to have these types of conversation with your partner; it is sensible and it does save a lot of hassle and misunderstanding in the long run. It means that both parties know what to expect if things go wrong. You and your partner deserve to know what you are getting yourselves into before making big commitments.

If you would like more information about providing for your partner please call one of our expert lawyers based at our Bournemouth and Christchurch offices:

 

Making a Will or LPA:

Clare Lawson – Moordown – 01202 527008

Lloyd Thomas  – Lansdowne – 01202 294411

Andrew Lilley – Highcliffe      – 01425 282150

 

Making a Deed of Trust regarding your property:

Tracey Parsons –  Winton –      01202 526343

Making a Cohabitation Agreement:

Lynne Barton and Nicola Bennetts – Lansdowne – 01202 294411.

 Please note, this is not legal advice. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.



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