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Cohabitants risk losing everything without a will

Latest beneficiaries' case reignites debate on law around unmarried couples living together

26 February 2016

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With the number of cohabiting couples rising, the Law Society has urged unmarried couples to update their will and seek legal advice or risk losing everything in the event their partner dies.

With assets likely to go to children, estranged spouses, or the government - where close relatives are absent - a long and stressful court battle could ensue.

Recently, a bereaved woman, Joy Williams, fought tooth and nail for a share in a property after her deceased partner, Norman Martin, failed to update his will and divorce his estranged wife.

The former spouse initially inherited Martin's £320,000 share of a property, he and Williams had owned as tenants in common since 2009.

After taking the case to court, the judge ruled in Williams's favour. She described the experience as 'traumatic' and raised questions as to why serious relationships are not recognised by law.

President of the Law Society Jonathan Smithers said: 'This case is an important reminder for unmarried couples to make sure they have a valid and up-to-date will, and to seek expert legal advice regarding any co-owned property, if they intend their current partner to inherit upon their death.'

Last June, the Cohabitation Rights Bill began its journey through parliament aiming to provide some protection for cohabitees should their partner die.

Figures released in January 2015 by the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of cohabitating couples accounted for 16.4 per cent of all families in the UK.

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Wills, Trusts & Probate Courts & Judiciary