There was a recent case in the Supreme Court which has highlighted the vulnerability of the survivor when one partner dies and the couple were not married.
Siobhan McLaughlin successfully claimed Widowed Parents’ Allowance following her partner’s death. Current law states that this benefit is only available to bereaved partners who have children and have been married to or in a civil partnership with the deceased. Siobhan was not married to her late partner so she was in difficulties. Nevertheless in her case she was successful in being awarded Widowed Parents’ Allowance. The benefit is designed to help the children after a death so one wonders why the rules say a marriage or civil partnership is necessary.
This case only highlights the problems of surviving partners in such cases. These cases will be increasingly common. In 1996 there were 1.5 million unmarried couples co-habiting, but in 2017 that had jumped to 3.3 million.
Marrying or creating a civil partnership triggers certain rights, but those rights are not available for other couples, for example:-
- The surviving partner may not be able to inherit any part of their deceased partners’ pension – many pensions provide for “widow’s benefits”, but only marriage/civil partnership triggers the entitlement to such benefits.
- Inheritance Tax – there is an exemption against Inheritance Tax (which is the tax on the value of an estate at the date of death) if the deceased was married to his or her partner at the date of death. Otherwise the tax is 40% on the assets inherited (subject to a minimum threshold).
- Inheritances – there are no automatic rights for a surviving unmarried partner to inherit anything from the estate of the deceased partner. If there is a Will clearly this governs the arrangements, but if there is no Will the Intestacy Rules, which deal with inheritances in the absence of a Will, do not allow for unmarried partners to inherit anything.
- It appears that this has led to a large increase in the numbers of “death bed marriages”. Couples are realising right at the last minute that to protect inheritances and other such rights a marriage is necessary.
Whatever the merits or problems with the current system, it is clearly important to plan for the future. Making a Will is one of the first steps to take. Here at Morrish Solicitors we are able to prepare Wills for clients in our offices at Yeadon, Pudsey and Leeds City Centre. We also, where necessary, make home visits to clients or visits to hospitals or care homes.