Inheritance and Intestacy Laws May Spark Church Versus Cohabitants Clashes

Year Published: 2009

A leading family lawyer is predicting a bitter battle between church leaders and groups representing lone unmarried parents and single women if new intestacy and family provision laws are pushed through.

Consultation is underway on whether unmarried cohabitants should be due a share of the estate of their partner upon death, but it could put Church and interest groups at loggerheads says The Family at SAS Daniels LLP.

“On the face of it, the Law Commission’s paper outlining potential reforms with regard to who gets what after a partner’s death should correct what the public considers to be a deeply unfair aspect of the intestacy laws,” Head of the Family team said.

“Currently, an unmarried cohabitant of somebody who dies stands to get nothing – even though they may have had children together.

“Worst still, in many people’s eyes, assets may be distributed amongst relatives who have had little if any contact with the deceased, and which many friends and relatives may feel is completely inappropriate.

“There have been many cases of situations in which a life-long carer or co-habitant of somebody who dies finds themselves with nothing because long estranged relatives appear out of the woodwork to claim property or cash – or is forced to embark upon costly legal action to get what they feel is their rightful share.

“But the new proposals mean that cohabitants, with or without children, stand to receive anything between 50% and 100% of what a spouse would be entitled to – and that, in the eyes of many, would be a far more fair than the current situation.

“But while groups representing lone parents and women who have lost their partner may welcome these proposals, I detect rumblings from the Church that once again the institution of marriage is being undermined.

“Marriage or civil partnership are currently integral to intestacy and inheritance laws, and it is likely the Church will be arguing that marriage is fast becoming even more of an optional extra in life.”

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