When one person in a couple owns the house and dies – what rights does the cohabitee have?

With marriages gradually declining over the decades, living together without saying “I do” has become the choice for many. People may prioritise saving up for a house deposit, travel or education over marriage, as the costs can add up. 

According to the latest available data from the Office of National Statistics, the number of marriages of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales in 1972 was 426,000 and in 2016 it was 243,000. This shows a drop in marriages of around 57%, meaning there are more and more unmarried couples living together – so they should know where they stand legally, especially if they don’t wish to get married. 

Is there such a thing as Common Law Partner?

No! A Common Law Husband or Wife simply doesn’t exist in law. It’s a popular myth that after a certain period of time living together, unmarried cohabiting couples gain similar legal rights to married couples. 

What are your legal rights as an unmarried couple living together?

Unmarried couples who are living together are officially referred to as “cohabitees” in the legal world. It’s not clear how or when the misconception started. Many people believe that living together for a long time gives them the same rights they would have in a marriage, especially if they have children. This isn’t true, as the UK doesn’t yet cater for the upward trend in unmarried cohabiting couples. 

What legal options do cohabiting couples have if one person owns the house and dies?

If an unmarried couple live together and one of them owns the property they live in, but one of them dies, the consequences depend largely on the Will left behind. If there was no Will then the person has died “intestate.” 

In some cases, even if there was a Will, the deceased may not have made enough provisions for their partner. 

Fortunately, there is a potential solution: the Inheritance Act 1975: 

Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975

If you are the surviving partner, you have six months from the date the Grant of Probate has been issued to make a claim under the 1975 Act.  

The 1975 Act may assist unmarried partners with claims for reasonable financial provision. The outcome depends on several factors such as:

  • The applicant’s financial requirements, including future financial needs.
  • Any beneficiaries financial needs (if the deceased made a Will)
  • Whether or not the applicant lives with any physical or mental disabilities.
  • The value of the estate, after tax.
  • Any responsibilities the deceased may have for any applicants / dependants 

For free initial help and advice on your legal rights regarding inheritance, please get in touch with our specialists:

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