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Cohabiting couples to have better rights

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The Law Commission has suggested that unmarried or cohabiting couples should be able to benefit financially if their partner dies without leaving a will.

Currently people living together do not have the same rights as married couples. The cohabitation bill has been proposed in England and Wales, with a view to a possible introduction in Scotland. Such a change in the law would bring England and Wales into line with Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The Law Commission insists public opinion clearly supports such change and that the bill reflects ‘modern British family life.’

The Commission points out that there are now more than two million cohabiting couples in the country, a figure that is soon expected to rise to three million. 30% of children are born into such relationships and Professor Elizabeth Cooke, the Law Commissioner for England and Wales, believes it is high time the law caught up with the reality of family life.

However, the proposal has divided legal opinion with some family lawyers arguing that unmarried people may prefer their wealth to go to parents or siblings and not their partner. Marilyn Stowe, partner at a family law firm in Harrogate, is among solicitors who believe the proposals are a mistake.

“There is a fundamental difference between people who are married and not married,” she said.

Ms Stowe questioned whether everyone who is not married would really like their partners to inherit everything, claiming: “You might want to leave it to your parents, other members of the family, or friends.”

The Commission has suggested that any couple who have been together for five years, or longer, or who have children, would inherit from the other partner as though they had been married.

A surviving partner in a couple who have been together for between two and five years would inherit half the amount they would otherwise have been entitled to under full inheritance rights.

However, the uncertainty, and sometimes unfairness, of intestacy laws can be avoided if more people made a will and currently more than 80% of cohabitees are without one.

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Written by Andrew Hodges

November 19, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Comment, LinkedIn

Tagged with , ,

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