New Years Eve saw the first mixed sex couples form Civil Partnerships following a change in the law last year.
This is significant because for couples who are not married nor in a Civil Partnership, neither party has any automatic right of inheritance when the other passes away (other than sometimes when they jointly own a property). And neither do any step children.
A survey carried out by Resolution in 2017 found two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe "common-law marriage" laws exist. As a result, they do not enjoy the same property, inheritance and tax entitlements as married couples and civil partners. The number of unmarried couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017 making them the fastest-growing family type in the UK.
So if you know any couples that are cohabiting and who do not have Wills, please alert them to the fact that they are not protected. If they are a mixed sex couple there is now an option to enter a civil partnership and gain similar rights to married couples including marriage allowance tax relief, exemption from inheritance tax and joint parental responsibility for children. Same sex couples have been able to enter civil partnerships since they were introduced in 2005, specifically for that purpose.
Matters can get further complicated where the cohabiting couple have children from previous relationships and the ogre of sideways disinheritance rears its head. But that is subject for another day.
For now, a professionally crafted Will that takes account of each couples' unique situation and requirements will give the peace of mind from knowing that your loved ones have some basic protections in place.