Married couples and civil partners have the safety net of Prior Rights (Where there is no Will) should their spouse or partner die without making a Will. Prior Rights ensure the surviving spouse or partner automatically receives an entitlement to share in the estate. These include:
  • The family home (up to a value of £473,000)
  • The contents of the family home (up to a value of £29,000) and
  • The first £89,000 of moveable estate (£50,000 if the deceased had children)

The surviving partner in an unmarried relationship has no automatic right of any description to inherit any part of the deceased partner’s estate.

What if the deceased partner was divorced?
If the deceased partner is divorced, the Prior Rights issue disappears. However, it still does not resolve the unmarried surviving partner’s problems. He or she still does not have any automatic right to share in the deceased partner’s estate. If the deceased partner had children, it is they who are entitled to the estate. If there are no children, the estate would then pass to parent, siblings and then more remote relations, (cousins and so forth). Even if the deceased partner has no relations who could share in the estate, the surviving unmarried partner is still not entitled to any part of the estate!

Whilst the surviving partner can receive or share in the estate they must is by raising court proceedings. This will be expensive and time consuming, especially if objections are lodged to the claim by relatives of the deceased.

How can unmarried couples overcome these problems?
The quickest and easiest way to overcome these problems is for each of the partners to make a Will. This allows them to direct who should share in their estate after their death. In addition, when children from different relationships are involved, it allows the partners to deal with this rather than depending entirely on the Law of Succession.

Note legal rights may still apply (see next section)