Unmarried Couples ‘Must Think Of The Future’ As Inheritance Issues Related To Cohabitation Rise

Growing Trend Emphasises Importance Of Preparing A Will, Lawyers Warn


Legal experts specialising in estate disputes are urging cohabiting couples to ensure they put wills in place and keep them updated, after seeing an increase in cases related to unmarried people who were left with nothing when their partners passed away.

Irwin Mitchell’s Will, Trust and Estate Dispute team has seen a 25 per cent increase in cases linked to cohabiting couples in the past two years – and state that a third of all claims made under the Inheritance Act 1975 now relate to such issues.

A recent survey by Irwin Mitchell also found that six in 10 people do not have a will and more than half the population do not actually know what will happen to their assets if they or their partner was to die. Specialist lawyers are now calling on unmarried couples to recognise the importance of putting a will in place to ensure a partner is provided for if the worst happens.


Kevin Merriman, from Whitton in Birmingham, faced a battle for his home after his partner Helen passed away in her late 30s in June 2012.

The couple bought the house in 2008 which was registered in both of their names as Tenants in Common. As she had not prepared a will, Helen’s 50 per cent share in the property passed to her estate upon her death.  In addition, Helen’s life insurance policy also paid out to her estate, which was passed in its entirety to her mother.

Kevin, 42, recalls: “I was devastated to lose Helen and then to suddenly face this issue was a massive shock – I had enough to think about as it is. All of this meant I was responsible for paying the whole mortgage despite only owning 50 per cent of the property.”

Irwin Mitchell helped Kevin bring a claim against his mortgage provider in relation to advice offered regarding the life policies and also to pursue a claim for reasonable financial provision from Helen’s estate. The latter was settled with the estate’s share of the property being passed to Kevin and a contribution being offered towards legal costs.

Kevin added: “You just don’t expect to lose your partner at such a young age and I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on anyone – it all served to make the most traumatic time of my life even more stressful.

“I was delighted with the outcome but recognise that everything I’ve been through could have been avoided. I’d urge unmarried couples to ensure they think about this issue as you simply never know what the future might hold.”

Margaret Smith, from Rotherham, was in a relationship with her partner Graham for more than 14 years. They lived together in his house for four and a half years and she contributed her own money to the modernisation of the property and to pay off his credit card debt.

However, when he died in February 2012, his estate was handled in line with a will he prepared in 1994, which meant his assets went to his two children from a previous marriage.

Margaret, 59, recalls: “Graham meant everything to me and it was heartbreaking to lose him, but then it became clear that his last will meant everything would be left to his children.

“This meant I had to move out of the property which I had lived in for several years and also invested money into. I was absolutely stunned.”

Irwin Mitchell helped Margaret take action in relation to the issue and settled her case with Graham’s estate for £32,000, meaning she could be provided for by Graham after all.

She added: “The whole situation really opened my eyes to some of the legal issues you don’t think about when you’re in a happy relationship and cannot see how anything could possibly go wrong.

“I was massively relieved that I could take action to get what I was entitled to, but wish that all of the difficulties I’ve faced could have been avoided. It simply made the pain of losing Graham worse.”